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Photo credits: Kate Turner (courtesy of the Wilson Lab)

Steve Wilson is Professor of Developmental Genetics and Vice-dean for Research at UCL in London.  Ever since his post-doc at the University of Michigan with Steve Easter, his research has been focused on brain development using zebrafish as a model system. He established an independent research group in 1992 and moved to UCL in 1998 as a Wellcome Trust Senior Research Fellow, was appointed Professor of Developmental Genetics in 2002 and Vice-Dean for Research in 2007. Steve was elected to the Academy of Medical Sciences in 2002 and to EMBO in 2005. He is Deputy Editor in Chief for the journal Development and Chaired the Wellcome Trust Basic Science Interview Committee until 2016. He won the Remedios Caro Almeida Prize in Developmental Neurobiology in 2009.

Find out more at the Wilson group website


in development, how they are encoded in circuits and what their importance is for nervous system function. We use developmental, genetic, imaging and behavioural approaches to study habenular asymmetry in zebrafish to address these issues. One focus is to determine the mechanisms that lead to neurons on the left and the right acquiring different character and establishing different circuit connectivity between left and right sides of the brain.   We have also been using optogenetic approaches to characterise functional properties on neurons on left and right and assessing how genetic mutations affecting laterality affect circuitry.  In parallel we are developing behavioural assays to assess how habenular circuit asymmetry affects behaviour.

It is likely that the nervous systems of all bilaterally symmetric animals are left-right asymmetric with respect to processing of information and control of behaviour. However, we know very little about how asymmetries arise 

Breaking symmetry in the brain: from genes to circuits and behaviour

Dr Peter A. Lawrence FRS

Planar cell polarity, what it is, what it's for and something of how we think it works


The talk will mainly be about our attempts to understand planar cell polarity (PCP) and a biased and simplified selection of the ideas and models that have emerged. Drosophila stands way out as the best model organism, its genetics, its methodology of making mosaics and its oriented cell hairs and bristles have provided the means of discovery.

Peter Lawrence has a long standing interest in the formation of patterns in development and would like to know how genes act to achieve pattern through the interaction of cells. For the last twenty years or so, in collaboration with José Casal in Cambridge, Gary Struhl at the HHMI, Columbia University, NY and David Strutt in Sheffield, They have been investigating the development of the larval and adult abdomen. He was a student of Sir V. B. Wigglesworth in the Zoology Department at the University of Cambridge from 1962-65. After a Harkness Fellowship held in 1966-67 in the USA, he returned to the Genetics Department. He was at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge from 1969-2006. In 2006, instead of giving up research after turning 65 he returned to the Zoology Department at the University of Cambridge. In 1992 he published The Making of a Fly (Blackwell Scientific Publications, Oxford). 

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PDN Symposium 2019 Plenary Speakers

Professor Steve Wilson

PDN Principal Investigators presenting at this year's symposium

Neuronal plasticity: beyond the usual suspects

The ability of nerve cells to modify themselves in a process called neuronal plasticity is one of the characteristics that make the brain millions of times more powerful and capable of learning than any supercomputer. We are particularly interested in the ways in which the brain responds to sensory stimuli from the environment and uses such experiences to plastically modify itself at a cellular and circuit level. We investigate signalling, plasticity and behaviour in the olfactory bulb (Maggy Lau, Gaia Bianchini and Yasmeen Cooper) and in the cerebellum (Tessa Bienfait, Harry Bestwick and Ben Grodzinski).


Dr. Elisa Galliano

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Dr. Susanna Mierau

Network Development in Cortical Circuits and Disruption in Rett Syndrome and Autism

Multiple mutations have been identified in autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders that affect synaptic function.  In Rett syndrome, loss of MeCP2, a chromatin remodeler, has opposing effects on excitatory synaptic maturation in excitatory and inhibitory cell populations in the cortex of the mouse model.  Our work is focused on the effect of Mecp2-deficiency on network dynamics in developing cortical circuits using two-photon calcium imaging and multielectrode array recordings in cultured neurons.  Our goal is to understand how synaptic changes lead to network level defects and identify new therapeutic targets for improving cortical function in these disorders.

Studying the link between tumorigenesis, metabolism and the cell cycle in Drosophila melanogaster

Bub3 is a spindle assembly checkpoint protein with a role in the correct chromosomal distribution between cells in mitosis.  Lower expression levels of this protein lead to tumorigenesis in Drosophila larvae. A genetic modifier screen has identified several metabolic modulators of this tumour growth.  My aim is to identify the role of these candidate genes in the cross-talk between metabolism, tumorigenesis and the cell cycle.

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Dr. Sara Morais da Silva


Do you fear what I fear? rodent ultrasonic vocalisations in fear conditioning

Having joined PDN in September, Dr Cahill studies the mechanisms of fear and anxiety. She is interested in the differences between emotionally-driven behaviour that is learned and that which is innate. Using molecular biology, pharmacology and modified behavioural tasks, she aims to figure out how the brain changes in response to experience and how those responses are controlled.

Dr. Emma Cahill

Transgenerational epigenetic inheritance in mice

Folate deficiency is famously associated with neural tube defects yet folate metabolism plays a much larger role in development and health. We previously showed that defects in folate metabolism in mice has transgenerational effects on the development of their grandprogeny and great grandprogeny. The goal of our research is to explore genetic, epigenetic and developmental mechanisms behind the multigenerational inheritance of these phenotypes (e.g., growth phenotypes, congenital malformations). Understanding how folate metabolism conveys memory to the next generation will better inform us about the mechanisms behind the inheritance of non-communicable disease risk. 

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Dr. Erica Watson

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Image analysis for fluorescence microscopy

Leila Muresan is a RSE EPSRC fellow, hosted by Cambridge Advanced Imaging Centre.
Her objective is to support research in the School of Biology by developing image analysis solutions for light microscopy, with special emphasis on super-resolution microscopy and lightsheet microscopy. She will be joined in June by a research associate working on space varying deconvolution for lightsheet microscopy and multi-modal registration.

Dr. Leila Muresan

Stem cell biology of the maternal-fetal interface of human pregnancy

The placenta, the extra-embryonic organ derived from the trophectoderm, sustains the mammalian embryo during its development in utero. Disorders of pregnancy that arise from abnormal placental development result in considerable maternal and infant mortality. Understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying the development of the human placenta and its interactions with the endometrium, the lining of the uterus has been challenging. We have recently derived 3D culture systems of both sides of the maternal-fetal interface that phenotypically and functionally recapitulate their tissue of origin. We aim to use these organoids combined with single cell genomics, Crispr/Cas9 genome editing and tissue engineering to unravel the fundamental biology of how these two organs function and cooperate to establish a successful pregnancy.

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Dr. Margherita Yayoi Turco

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Mechanobiology of cell shape control

The Paluch lab investigates the basic principles of cell shape control. Cell shape is ultimately the result of mechanical forces acting on the cell membrane. To investigate cell shape regulation, it is thus essential to investigate how cells control their own physical properties. We combine molecular and cell biology, quantitative imaging, biophysics and modelling to understand cell shape control across scales, from molecular processes to cell-scale behaviour. We are particularly interested in cell shape changes during cell migration and division, and during developmental fate transitions.

Prof. Ewa Paluch

We would like to thank each of our speakers for contributing to the PDN Symposium 2019

Photo credits: Dr Helene Gautier

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