Matthias Landgraf

Department of Zoology, University of Cambridge

Fit for this world? - Critical periods of development specify cellular properties

12:00 pm, Thursday 18 January 2024

Location: CCMN Seminar Room, DPAG, Sherrington Building

Abstract:  What mechanisms mediate developmental robustness in the face of inherent cellular variability, as well as diverse physical or metabolic constraints?  Focused on a developing nervous system (that of the Drosophila larva), we have been asking:  how can robust network function emerge from neuronal ensembles?

As developing networks become active, they undergo plastic tuning phases, termed ”critical periods”; ”critical” because disturbances during these developmental windows lead to lasting changes in function. To study the underlying mechanisms we have used the larval neuromuscular system as an experimental model. We find that transient embryonic experiences of different temperatures specify changes in synaptic terminal growth, neurotransmitter receptor composition and neuronal excitability. Moreover, the developmental timing of the critical period for muscles is distinct from that for neurons. We identified mitochondrial reactive oxygen species as key signals, and have preliminary insights on how such transient signals might be turned into lasting changes of gene expression and cellular properties.

Bio:  Raised in the fenlands of Northern Germany, on leaving school I emigrated to London, where I read Genetics at University College London; then embarked on a PhD in Cambridge with Prof. Michael Bate on the development of the locomotor network of Drosophila melanogaster. Following an interlude of national service (as a home care nurse in Berlin), I returned to Cambridge as a postdoctoral research fellow. In 2002 I was awarded a Royal Society University Research Fellowship, followed in 2010 by a lectureship position, then promotion to Reader and, this October, to full Professor. Our research has been funded by the Royal Society, the Wellcome Trust and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).