Dr Tony Southall
Reprogramming neurons for nervous system repair.
Neurodegenerative disease in general
A long term goal of regenerative medicine and stem cell research is to possess the knowledge to convert cells from one type to another, for repairing of damaged or diseased tissues. Exciting progress has been made in recent years, with the discovery that expression of specific transcription factors (proteins that regulate gene expression) can reprogram differentiated cells back into stem cells or into an alternative differentiated state. To use these methods for curing neurodegenerative diseases and repairing damaged nerves, much more needs to be learnt about how transcription factors normally control genes to specify neuronal cell fate. Neurotransmitters are a key property of neurons, allowing neurons to communicate with each other. This research project involves investigating how neurotransmitter properties of neurons are specified at the gene regulatory level. Cutting edge technology will be used to identify the repertoire of transcription factors expressed in cells with specific neurotransmitter properties. The role of candidate transcription factors in neurotransmitter specification will be investigated, as well as their potential to reprogram the properties of neurons in a living organism. A future aim is to perform parallel experiments in vertebrate systems, bringing the prospect of focused nervous system regeneration, that one step closer.