Wired for Sense: Discovering the Mechanisms Governing Sensory System Development
The late onset of complex mental disorders, such as schizophrenia and depression, is thought to result from a combination of defects in normal neurobiological maturation processes and exposure to environmental factors. There is growing evidence to suggest that these mental disorders may result from intrinsic defects, including inaccurate wiring of the brain, in early neurodevelopmental processes that only become fully manifested in late adolescence and early adulthood.
The development of the nervous system relies on the formation of an intricate web of connections, termed synapses, among more than 10 billion brain cells. The accuracy with which these synapses are formed is critical for proper communication between nerve cells. Nerve cells form synapses through extensions of the cell's processes called axons that can travel over long distances to find their appropriate synaptic partners. Over the past ten years, research has identified several families of molecules capable of directing axonal processes to their targets. If we are going to develop regenerative therapies to help patients with complex mental disorders as well as patients with spinal cord injury, we are going to have to figure out how these "repulsive axon guidance molecules" direct axons.
Canada Research Chair Dr. Jean-François Cloutier is exploring the mechanisms that govern brain wiring by characterizing the role of specific families of repulsive axon guidance molecules - the Semaphorins and the Slits - in the development of sensory systems. He uses molecular and in vivo genetic approaches to define the mode of action of the repulsive axon guidance molecules in the wiring of sensory systems. He also uses these approaches to identify the molecules and his research group is performing experiments aimed at defining the intracellular signals triggered in the sensory neurons by the repulsive axon guidance molecules.