My laboratory uses a vertebrate model organism for genetics, the zebrafish Danio rerio, to understand how naïve progenitor cells navigate through their path to acquire a distinct identity of post mitotic neurons in vivo. As a model cell type, we investigate the commitment and differentiation of progenitor cells to dopaminergic neurons, whose degeneration leads to Parkinson’s disease, the most common movement disorder.
Our past work involves genetic screening for mutations that have deficits of dopaminergic neurons and molecular characterization of the genes disrupted by these mutations. Some of these genes may provide fundamental insights into the commitment and differentiation of neural stem cells, whereas other genes may give clues as to how the specific dopaminergic fate is granted. Our future work involves more mechanistic characterization of these genes at molecular, cellular, and biochemical levels, as well as identification of additional mutations that alter progenitor behavior and dopamine neuronal development.