Program 1: Development and Evolution of Nervous Systems

Speaker: Ulrich Technau

Which factors regulate the developmental transition of pluripotent stem cells into highly specialized neuronal cell types? How is the synaptic specificity of neuronal connections encoded in the genome? How are brain maps organized across ontogeny and phylogeny?

Nervous systems are a hallmark of all eumetazoans: the common organization principle is highly specialized nerve cells connecting in precise networks. Understanding brain function requires a wide spectrum of studies on molecules, neuronal cell types, connecting circuits, and complex behavioral responses. During development, neurons must become specified, migrate to the right location, differentiate axonal and dendritic arbors, recognize synaptic partners and assemble into functional networks. Combining the power of genetic approaches with comparative studies of nervous system organization across multiple species will provide fundamental insights into how complex nervous systems derive from ancestral forms, and reveal the fundamental rules in the cellular and molecular development of nerve cells.

Within program P1 we will provide a platform for collaboration and intellectual exchange by integrating approaches from evolutionary and systems biology, molecular and developmental neurobiology and comparative zoology. For the comparative approach we will integrate a wide range of invertebrate model organisms from cnidaria, mollusks, & polychaetes to insects and spiders with a main focus on the organization, development and function of sensory systems. For example, comprehensive nerve cell transcriptomes will identify the regulatory networks that underlie the physiology, development, and molecular identity of neural circuits across species. We expect that this VDS program will have significant impact in the field of brain research and open multiple new perspectives, even for core aspects of vertebrate neurobiology.


More information about all PIs of this program: