"The origin of simple nervous systems marks a key moment in animal evolution. To identify the genetic processes that underpinned this event, we need to study how neurogenesis occurs in early branching animal groups with simple non-centralised nervous systems. The Cnidaria (corals, sea anemones, jellyfish) are a particularly informative group for such investigations; however studies of cnidarian neural development have been hampered by a lack of appropriate tools for analysing gene function and visualising neurogenesis in these animals. The recent development of experimental assays and transgenic lineages in the cnidarian sea anemone Nematostella vectensis has addressed this problem and we are now able to examine neural development in this ancient phylum in exceptional detail.
ANTSAN proposes to employ these advanced tools to identify and functionally characterise genes that underpin the critical process of establishing neural connectivity (e.g. axon guidance and synaptogenesis) in this species. To achieve this objective, N. vectensis neural cells will be isolated by performing fluorescence activated cell sorting on transgenic animals in which the nervous system is fluorescently labelled. The global gene expression in this cell population will then be documented via microarray analysis. This inventory of neural expressed genes will inform candidate gene selection for the functional studies of neural connectivity, and will also be compared to published datasets from other animals to identify genes with common roles in neural development across the animal kingdom.
The research outcomes of ANTSAN will make a novel and significant contribution to our understanding of the essential factors involved in nervous system development, and of the earliest steps in nervous system evolution. ANTSAN may also contribute to studies of human neurological disorders, by identifying conserved genes with neural functions that have not yet been studied in biomedically relevant species."
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