neural development, stem cells, synaptogenesis, synaptic plasticity
The nervous system is arguably the most complex organ in the body and defines who we are as a species and as individuals. How this complex organ is assembled and organized in order to give us cognition, self-awareness, memory, the ability to reason, and emotions, continues to fascinate scientists
and non-scientists alike. During neural development, the nervous system is generated and shaped, starting in early embryogenesis, and continues to be reshaped until late in life. Neurodevelopmental research is conducted in many laboratories at UVA and aims to understand the mechanisms underlying brain development at molecular, cellular, tissue, and organismic levels. In order to understand the mechanisms by which the nervous system forms normally, and what processes are disturbed in developmental disorders, researchers investigate many aspects of neurodevelopment, such as:
how the neural tube is formed,
how axons and dendrites are formed and grow,
how synaptic homeostasis is maintained,
how synapses are formed, stabilized, and eliminated,
how synaptic strength is changed during learning and memory,
how neural cell types are generated and specified from stem cells,
how newborn neurons migrate to their final destination,
how neurotrophic factors regulate neural development, and
how new neurons are generated by adult stem cells in the adult brain.
Since defects in neurodevelopment underlie many prevalent motor and cognitive deficits, such as mental retardation, autism, cortical malformations, lissencephaly, and Rett syndrome, it is crucial to understand neurodevelopment as a basis for understanding neurodevelopmental disorders.