The human brain consists of 100 billion neurons and over 100 trillion synaptic connections. There are more neurons in a single human brain than stars in the milky way! During development, neurons navigate this complex cellular environment and assemble into functional circuits. How the brain develops is not well understood.
We are interested in understanding the development of neuronal circuitry, and we use C. elegans to examine this question in vivo. First, C. elegans has a simple and well-defined nervous system with 302 neurons that form about 5000 chemical synapses. It is the only metazoan for which the entire nervous system has been reconstructed by serial electron microscopy. Second, despite the relative simplicity of its nervous system, C. elegans synapses share many features with mammalian synapses at both morphological and molecular levels, suggesting conserved mechanisms of synapse assembly and function. Third, the genetic tools available in C. elegans greatly facilitate neurodevelopmental studies.
Our lab is undertaking three experimental approaches to examine the development of neural circuitry. First, we have generated transgenic animals that allow us to visualize and probe neurodevelopment in vivo and with single cell resolution. We can achieve this by using promoter fragments that drive gene expression cell specifically. Second, we have established key collaborations with microscopy labs to achieve unprecedented visualization of neurodevelopment in C. elegans. Third, we have established a collaboration with Aravi Samuel (Harvard University) to examine the functional implications of synaptic mutants by assaying behaviors. Together, these approaches allow us to examine the development of neural circuitry and its functional implications.
The primary mission of the Colón-Ramos lab is to generate new knowledge that contributes to our greater understanding of the development and function of the nervous system, and how it goes awry in disease.
We value scientific excellence, creativity, innovation, critical thinking, mentoring, collaborations, sharing of knowledge and ethical and social awareness of our research and educational work and its impact.
With this mission statement in mind, and framed within those values, we seek to participate and contribute to wider scientific discussions by producing and sharing knowledge with colleagues around the World and the public. We seek to create a positive environment to encourage effective learning, teaching and productivity. Our lab environment is one conducive to individual growth and learning for the purpose of producing successful scientists that will continue our mission and contribute to our greater understanding of the development and function of the nervous system.