Team members

Polarization and binary cell fate decisions in the nervous system

We are analyzing how the divisions of neuronal progenitors are regulated and how differentiated neurons are produced in a robust manner.

Neurons are often generated by asymmetric divisions of neuronal progenitors such as neural stem cells. During this process, a progenitor cell divides asymmetrically to generate two neurons with different identities, or one neuron and a new progenitor. In the nervous system, the asymmetric divisions of the different progenitors are tightly coordinated, implying a communication between cells. In addition, during nervous system development, a very precise set of different neuronal types is produced, meaning that their specification process has to be very robust.

Our team analyzes how the asymmetric divisions of neuronal progenitors are controlled and how various differentiated neuron types are produced in a robust manner. To address these questions we are using the nematode C. elegans as a model organism. C. elegans is a good system to study this process as its nervous system is simple and well characterized. In addition, in C. elegans, the lineage history of every neuron is known, the embryos are transparent and their development can be easily followed by 4D-videomicroscopy. The C. elegans system also offers numerous tools to dissect the molecular basis of biological processes such as genome-wide screens, transgenesis or CRISPR genome engineering. The combination of genome engineering and quantitative live imaging allows us to follow the dynamics of proteins and gene expression in vivo during nervous system development.

By characterizing the mechanisms controlling neuronal progenitor divisions and differentiation, our work may have an impact on the development of treatments against some types of cancer or neurodegenerative diseases.

Detection by smFISH of mRNAs for the neuronal transcription factor ttx-3 (green) in a C. elegans embryo.


Our last publications


of the team

Lab members

They drive our research


They contributed to our research
Ute Rothbächer
Assistant Professor, University of Innsbruck, Austria
Guillaume Bordet
Postdoc, University North Dakota, USA
Pauline Mélénec
Research Assistant, EPFL, Lausanne, Switzerland
Shilpa Kaur
Postdoc, University of Chicago, USA
Sabrina Murgan
Medical Writer, La Timone Hospital, Marseille
Konstantina Filippopoulou
Postdoc, Institut Jacques Monod, Paris

Funding bodies

They support our research


Polarization and binary cell fate decisions in the nervous system

In both vertebrates and invertebrates, postmitotic neurons are often generated by asymmetric divisions of neuronal progenitors such as neural stem cells. This general mechanism used to build the nervous system raises two important questions : how are these asymmetric divisions coordinated in space and how do the daughter cells acquire different fates in a robust manner.

We address these questions using the nematode C. elegans as a model organism. In C. elegans, most neurons are generated during neurulation by asymmetric divisions oriented along the antero-posterior axis. We have shown that these terminal asymmetric divisions are regulated by a particular Wnt/β-catenin pathway. We are now trying to understand :

1- How the field of neuronal progenitors is polarized.

upstream of the asymmetric divisions

We have recently observed that Wnt ligands, expressed at a higher level in the posterior of the embryo, regulate this process. We are now analyzing how these Wnt ligands polarize the neuronal progenitors using advanced in vivo imaging techniques with single molecule resolution.

2 - How the daughter cells acquire different neuronal fates in a reliable manner.

downstream of the asymmetric divisions

More precisely, we analyze how the Wnt/β-catenin pathway is connected to the terminal differentiation programs and have identified a novel mode of action for TCF, the key transcription factor of the Wnt pathway. We are also characterizing the mechanisms that allow this cell fate specification process to be highly robust and, in particular, the contribution of chromatin factors. We address this question using a combination of CRISPR genome engineering, in vivo quantitative imaging and single molecule RNA FISH.

The Wnt/β-catenin pathway is involved in several types of cancer and in the regulation of asymmetric divisions of neural stem cells in vertebrates. This study may therefore help identify candidate target proteins and mechanisms for future anti-cancer drug developments or regenerative medicine treatments.