The Dynamics of Morphogenesis Lab is focused on understanding the dynamic mechanisms controlling tissue formation and cell fate determination in vivo. Morphogenesis requires the precise spatiotemporal coordination of processes occurring across multiple scales: from the expression of individual genes, to the behaviour of single cells, to the forces that drive the simultaneous movement of thousands of cells. Our lab is interested in how molecular events are translated into, and integrated with, cellular properties and mechanical forces to orchestrate tissue formation. We are particularly interested in how these processes interact to direct the formation of the neural tube – the embryonic precursor to the brain and spinal cord. Incorrect formation of the neural tube results in neural tube defects (NTDs) which are amongst the most common and severe birth defects. Understanding the dynamic mechanisms driving neural tube formation may ultimately assist in the development of methods for the prediction and treatment of NTDs.

Research overview

Many genes have been associated with neural tube defects but it remains unclear how they affect neural tube morphogenesis in real time. We use live imaging approaches to understand the dynamic processes that form the neural tube and how disruption of these leads to some of the most common human birth defects.

The actomyosin network powers the cell movements that generate many tissues. Mutations associated with human neural tube defects often disrupt the actin cytoskeleton so we are interested in how actin networks are remodelled during neural tube formation and which are the key molecules controlling this.

Embryonic development requires the coordination of biochemical patterning and morphogenetic movements. Mechanical stimuli generated by morphogenesis are converted to biochemical signals by mechanotransduction pathways, which in turn regulate cellular properties and cell fate specification. We are interested in how mechanotransduction directs neural tube formation and neural cell fate.

Our approach

We use quantitative live imaging techniques to understand how tissue forms in real time. By applying these technologies to developing avian embryos and human induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) models, we investigate how molecular and cellular properties and mechanical forces direct neural tube morphogenesis.