Morphogenesis of sensory neurons and skin

Morphogenesis is the process by which cells adopt their specific shapes, sizes, and relationships with neighboring cells. Our lab studies the morphogenesis of developing skin cells and sensory neurons, which together mediate touch sensation. The skin at early developmental stages consists of two epithelial layers, each with distinct functions and morphologies. Sensory neurons project elaborately branched cellular processes called peripheral axons into the territory between the two skin layers to detect touch stimuli. We investigate how each of these cell types adopts its distinct morphological features and how skin cells and neurons influence each other’s morphogenesis.

To study these questions we use zebrafish embryos and larvae as a model. Because zebrafish eggs are externally fertilized and their embryos are optically clear, cellular behaviors can be imaged in live animals. Transgenic lines allow us to visualize specific cells and subcellular processes, laser-based techniques allow us to damage cells at precise times and places to study repair, and genetic manipulations provide insight into the molecular underpinnings of cellular behaviors. By studying basic cellular processes we hope to shed light on how they are impacted by damage and disease.

Sagasti lab • UCLA