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Ms. Amelia Joy Thompson

I study how the physical environment of neurons in vivo guides their growth in the developing embryo.


I did my undergraduate degree in cell and developmental biology at the Australian National University in Canberra, completing my dissertation on epithelial-mesenchymal transitions in Robert Saint's group. After working as a research assistant for a few years, I came up to Cambridge for the Wellcome Trust PhD programme in developmental biology, where I became interested in developmental neuroscience after a rotation in Kristian Franze's lab. When I am not at the atomic force microscope, I can be found either at the theatre or acting as Editorial Overlord for the popular science magazine Bluesci.

Research Interests

Neuronal growth is crucial for both early nervous system development and regeneration after injury. As axons and dendrites grow towards their targets, they are guided by environmental cues, including a well-characterised set of biochemical signals. Growing axons also interact mechanically with their environment, but the role of mechanical cues in axon pathfinding in vivo, and the spatiotemporal dynamics of tissue mechanics during early nervous system development, are still largely unknown.

I am interested in how the physical environment of growing neurons shapes the development of the embryonic nervous system. My PhD focusses on the role of tissue stiffness as an in vivo axon guidance cue, using the optic tract of the Xenopus laevis embryo as an experimental model. Currently, I am developing a combined time-lapse atomic force microscopy technique to simultaneously track in vivo brain tissue stiffness and live RGC axon behaviour in the embryonic brain. This will allow us for the first time to trace the development of tissue mechanics within a living, developing embryo and ultimately contribute to a more integrated understanding of axon guidance.

Key Publications

Koser DE, Thompson A, Foster SK, Dwivedy A et al, (2016), Mechanosensing is critical for axon growth in the developing brain, Nature Neuroscience, published online 19 September 2016

Bedzhov I, Bialecka M, Zielinska A, Kosalka J, Thompson AJ, Franze K, Zernicka-Goetz M, (2015), Development of the anterior-posterior axis is a self-organising process in the absence of maternal cues in mouse embryo, Cell Reports, 25 1368-1371

Gautier H, Thompson AJ, Achouri S, Koser DE, Holtzmann K, Moeendarbary E, Franze K, (2015), Atomic force microscopy-based force measurements on animal cells and tissues, In E. Paluch (ed.), Methods in Cell Biology, 125, 211–235

Simpson DA, Thompson AJ, Kowarsky M, Zeeshan NF, Barson MSJ, Hall LT, Yan Y, Kaufmann S, Johnson BC, Ohshima T, Caruso F, Scholten RE, Saint RB, Murray MJ, Hollenberg LCJ, (2014), In vivo imaging and tracking of individual nanodiamonds in drosophila melanogaster embryos, Biomedical Optics Express, 5, 1250-1261

Above: Measuring the stiffness of axon bundles from Xenopus tissue explant with atomic force microscopy.