Interdisciplinary Initiatives Program Round 3 – 2006

Mark Schnitzer, Biology
Ben Barres, Neurobiology

Glial cells are key regulators of nervous system development. They regulate, for example, the production of neurons by modulating the neural precursor divisions. They guide specific steps in axon pathfinding, help shape dendrite morphology, and secrete factors that promote synaptogenesis. Glia can also promote neuronal death to reduce excess neuronal populations. Through this diversity of cellular actions, glial cells function as important sculptors of early neuronal network connections. In addition, recent findings indicate that glia actively contribute to synapse elimination during late stages of postnatal development. However, little is known about the molecular and cellular mechanisms that underlie these events, or its behavioral consequences. In this collaboration we attempt to link molecular and cellular phenotypes to circuit and behavioral abnormalities. We anticipate that finding the molecular mechanisms underlying developmental synapse elimination may ultimately have far reaching consequences for our understanding of neurodegenerative diseases in which aberrant reactivation of normal developmental mechanisms may play a role.