In contrast to mammals, newts possess exceptional capacities among vertebrates to rebuild complex structures, such as the brain. Our goal is to bridge the gap in the regenerative outcomes between newts and mammals. My group has made significant contributions towards this goal. We created a novel experimental system, which recapitulates central features of Parkinson’s disease in newts, and provides a unique model for understanding regeneration in the adult midbrain. We showed an unexpected but key feature of the newt brain that it is akin to the mammalian brain in terms of the extent of homeostatic cell turn over, but distinct in terms of its injury response, showing the regenerative capacity of the adult vertebrate brain by activating neurogenesis in normally quiescent regions. Further we established a critical role for the neurotransmitter dopamine in controlling quiescence in the midbrain, thereby preventing neurogenesis during homeostasis and terminating neurogenesis once the correct number of neurons has been produced during regeneration. Here we aim to identify key molecular pathways that regulate adult neurogenesis, to define lineage relationships between neuronal stem and progenitor cells, and to identify essential differences between newts and mammals. We will combine pharmacological modulation of neurotransmitter signaling with extensive cellular fate mapping approaches, and molecular manipulations. Ultimately we will test hypotheses derived from newt studies with mammalian systems including newt/mouse cross species complementation approaches. We expect that our findings will provide new regenerative strategies, and reveal fundamental aspects of cell fate determination, tissue growth, and tissue maintenance in normal and pathological conditions.
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