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The mechanical control of neuronal development

Supervisor: Kristian Franze

Our understanding of physiological and pathological processes in the nervous system is currently almost entirely based on biochemical signalling. However, we have recently shown that neuronal growth and function are also controlled by mechanical signals1-3. Our lab uses different model organisms and cutting edge interdisciplinary approaches to investigate how neurons interact with their mechanical environment. Our work has great potential not only to shed new light on neuronal development but also to lead to breakthroughs in our understanding of neurodegenerative processes and neuronal regeneration after spinal cord injuries.

We have a range of possible projects to offer. For example, you could work on the impact of tissue stiffness on ephrin signalling. Ephrin is an important guidance cue in the developing brain, and preliminary data indicate that neuronal responses to ephrin are strongly modulated by mechanical signals. Alternatively, you could investigate how tissue stiffness gradients help guiding growing neuronal axons. Another potential project aims at understanding molecular mechanisms of how an increase in tissue stiffness leads to the activation of glial cells.

If you chose our lab, you will work in a dynamic, multidisciplinary team with great atmosphere. Depending on your project choice, you will learn different experimental techniques including atomic force microscopy, traction force microscopy, time-lapse imaging, confocal laser scanning microscopy, calcium imaging, primary neuronal cultures, genetic and pharmacological approaches to manipulate gene and protein expression in vitro and in vivo, and how to build cell culture substrates with mechanical properties resembling biological tissues. You will also get insight into programming, automated, quantitative data analysis and image processing, and get plenty of opportunities to practice your writing and presentation skills. The only requirement to work on the project is a high level of enthusiasm and curiosity.


Relevant references

Koser, D. E. et al. Mechanosensing is critical for axon growth in the developing brain. Nature Neuroscience (2016)

Pagliara, S. et al. Auxetic nuclei in embryonic stem cells exiting pluripotency. Nature Materials 13:638-644 (2014)

Hardie, R. C. & Franze, K. Photomechanical responses in Drosophila photoreceptors. Science 338:260-263 (2012)


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