Central nervous system function (CNS) requires precise communication between myriads of neurons and glia. A major challenge is to understand how these different cells organise and influence one another to generate and maintain a functional organ.
We are interested in the communication between neurons and oligodendrocytes, a type of CNS glia. Oligodendrocytes ensheath (myelinate) axons by iteratively 'wrapping' the axon. This cellular interaction is critical for proper nervous system function - it regulates transmission speed between nerve cells, learning and memory, and ensures long-term axonal health. Defective myelination impairs CNS function in multiple disorders ranging from diseases and pathologies of the developing and adult nervous system to neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders. For example, degeneration of myelin is a major cause for sensory and motor dysfunction in diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis.
Despite the diverse roles of oligodendrocytes for neuronal function, we believe that there are common principles underlying axon-oligodendrocyte communication during CNS development and remodelling in health and disease. To elucidate these principles, our research focuses on two questions:
a. Remodelling of myelinated axon structure in the healthy and damaged nervous system
b. The role of oligodendrocyte precursor cells for nervous system function and repair
To address these questions, we use a combination of high resolution microscopy methods, genetics, and modern data analysis. For an overview, read further below, check out our gallery, and look up our publications!
Our primary model organism for the study of cellular interactions is the zebrafish. Young zebrafish develop rapidly and outside the mother. This makes them easily accessible. Moreover, their small size and optical translucency allow for high-resolution in vivo live cell imaging without the need for any surgical intervention.
We use various optical imaging technologies to investigate intercellular communication from the whole organism level down to subcellular structures. Depending on the question, we use point-scanning confocal, two-photon and light-sheet microscopy.
Zebrafish share a high percentage of their genome with that of higher mammalians, including humans. Genetic manipulations allow us to introduce fluorescent reporters to label structures of interest, and to manipulate gene function in a defined cell.