The genetic basis of neuronal differentiation and neuronal circuit formation

Diseases or injuries affecting the brain frequently have devastating consequences for affected individuals. Despite progress in the last decade, many aspects of brain disease and brain development are still not understood with enough detail to develop effective diagnosis and treatment of disease and injury. Connectivity disorders result from defects in the formation of particular neuronal circuits that interfere with normal communication between neurons. They are especially challenging because they are often inherited and are influenced by more than one gene making it even more difficult to trace the underlying defects. It is suspected that connectivity defects are implicated in a variety of disorders including autism, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive–compulsive disorder and certain forms of epilepsy. In most cases, the nature of the circuitry defects is not understood. Dr. Hutter’s research is directed at identifying and describing central aspects of brain development, in particular how the formation of neuronal circuits is controlled and regulated at the molecular level. His research model is the simple invertebrate organism, C. elegans, which has many of the developmental control genes found in humans. By exploring the molecular basis of neuronal circuit formation in a simpler model organism, his work will contribute to a more detailed picture of the more complex circuitry of humans, and potentially to an improved ability to design drugs and other methods of treating connectivity disorders.