The purpose of our research is to elucidate molecular mechanisms that regulate cell-cell communication during development. We focus on two related questions: 1) how are tissues patterned and correctly connected by long-range signals, and 2) how cells structures and functions are coordinated at short-range with those of their neighbors. BMPs modulate long-range signaling during patterning, but also ensure short-range communication at specialized cell-cell interaction zones, for example the neuromuscular junction (NMJ). Through studies on extracellular modulators of BMP signaling we aim to elucidate mechanisms that shape cell-cell communication during early patterning and at NMJ synapses.
In recent years we have initiated a groundbreaking project to understand the mechanisms of synapse assembly using the Drosophila NMJ as a genetic model. Drosophila NMJ is a glutamatergic synapse, similar in structure and physiology to mammalian central AMPA/Kainate synapses. In flies, each NMJ is unique and identifiable, synapses are large and accessible for electrophysiological and optical analysis, making the Drosophila NMJ a favorite genetic system to study synapse development. The subunits that form the glutamate-gated ion channels (iGluRs) are known and relatively well studied. However, the mechanisms that control iGluRs clustering and stabilization at postsynaptic densities remain a mystery. We have discovered a novel, essential protein, Neto (Neuropillin and Tolloid-like), that is absolutely required for iGluRs clustering at the Drosophila NMJ. Neto is the first auxiliary protein described in Drosophila and is the only non-channel subunit required for functional glutamate receptors. These findings provide an entry point to understand the molecular mechanisms of synapse development.
Interested in joining the lab? Visit the Openings page.
Our lab featured in the NIH Catalyst: https://irp.nih.gov/catalyst/v25i2/ambition-and-lots-of-fruit-flies