Information processing in the brain is done by specialized neural circuits. Every neuron has a long process, an "axon", that carries information to its synaptic partners. Dr. Giniger's lab seeks to understand the molecular mechanisms that guide an axon, allowing it to find just the right partners from among all the myriad cells of the nervous system. His laboratory also seeks to understand why axons don't make guidance mistakes, given the intricacy of the trajectories they need to navigate. To understand these processes in humans, Dr. Giniger studies neural circuits of fruit flies, a model system that allows biochemical and cell biological approaches to be merged with classical and molecular genetics.
His laboratory has shown how a particular protein on the surface of fly nerve cells, called Notch, engages signaling proteins inside the axon that make it grow or turn when it encounters the Notch ligand-the delta protein. Notch is found in all multicellular animals, so this machinery almost certainly acts in construction of the human brain and nervous system.
Last Reviewed: February 21, 2012