Interdisciplinary Initiatives Program Round 6 - 2012

Gill Bejerano, Developmental Biology
Susan McConnell, Biology

The cerebral cortex underlies our highest cognitive and perceptual abilities. During development, cortical progenitor cells produce a diversity of young neurons that migrate away from their site of origin and establish distinct identities and connections. Defects in cortical development contribute to brain disorders including epilepsy and autism. The process of cortical development is ultimately read from the genome by proteins called transcription factors that recognize specific DNA sequences. Susan McConnell’s lab uses genetics to elucidate the function of several transcription factors that control the decision of an important class of cortical neurons to send their axonal connection to the other hemisphere of the brain or to travel down the spine. Only in the past five years has science come to truly appreciate the vast genomic landscape dedicated to the binding of transcription factors and control of development. Gill Bejerano’s lab uses genomics to discover regions recognized by transcription factors and trace their function and evolution to ultimately “read out” developmental programs directly from the genome. This project excitingly combines the complimentary expertise of both groups to unravel the gene network underlying the cell fate decisions of important cortical neurons. By answering this question, we will gain a deeper understanding of both cortical development and the way in which our genome is read to create a network of interactions that determine cell fate. As this latter question is fundamental to developmental biology we expect the approach and techniques we develop to facilitate many similar collaborations across the biomedical sciences, and to help genomics truly revolutionize the study of human development and human health.