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Across the animal kingdom, the vast majority of neurons in the adult brain have been generated and integrated into neuronal circuits during embryogenesis. The number and composition of post-mitotic neurons do not change much across post-natal lifespan, yet our behaviors vary dramatically across different developmental stages. How can this be?


Previous research has shown that post-mitotic neurons continue to change phenotypic properties (for example, electrophysiological properties) and rewire synaptic connections throughout post-natal juvenile stages until an animal has reached a fully mature state in adulthood. Components of the intricately timed maturation process occur independent of the individual’s experience and exposure to environmental stimuli, and suggest that cell-intrinsic genetic timer mechanisms coordinate the maturation of the nervous system. Simultaneously, neurons adapt to changing environmental conditions throughout their long post-mitotic lifespan to accommodate processes such as learning.


At the intersection of neuroscience, developmental biology, genomics and genetics, the central question that the Sun Lab is addressing is how post-mitotic neurons integrate cell-intrinsic genetic timer programs and cell-extrinsic environmental inputs to regulate the progression of the nervous system’s plastic molecular and functional states across post-natal lifespan.

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The lab leverages the power of two model organisms, C. elegans and mouse, to address this question. Despite living in different environmental niches and having differing physiological needs, the sequence of neurodevelopmental/maturation events is relatively conserved across these species. Understanding conserved regulatory mechanisms controlling neuronal maturation has significant implications for human health as disruption in these processes leads to impairments that underlie neural disorders across lifespan. At the same time, uncovering the divergent mechanisms these organisms have evolved to accommodate neurodevelopment in their specific environmental niches can reveal novel and interesting areas of biology.

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Building Atlases across Lifespan
Genetic Timer of Neuronal Maturation
Wall Clock
Image by USGS
Environmental Regulation of Neuronal Development and Plasticity
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