Molecular controls of embryonic facial patterning

The transformation of the embryo from a mass of undifferentiated cells into a fully formed, functioning organism is a complex process. In early embryonic development, discrete buds of cells fuse to create a face. If proper fusion fails to occurs, the result is severe developmental abnormalities including cleft lip with or without cleft palate. The embryonic segments that form the face are similar in chickens and mammals. Using the chicken embryo as a model, Dr. Joy Richman is studying how the jaw is formed and what goes awry in the process to cause cleft lip. By investigating the mechanisms that designate which embryonic facial bud will develop as a particular facial feature and how appropriate growth is initiated at key times to form a face, Dr. Richman will identify genes and gene signaling pathways that underlie normal and abnormal development of the face and jaw. Such information is critical for improved treatment and prevention strategies for defects such as cleft lip.