Establishing neuronal morphology

Liu, JOur primary goal is to understand the cellular mechanisms that govern the development of neurons. Neurons are highly specialized with axons and dendrites which are complex in shape and function. We use live microscopy and animal models to understand the development of this unique neuronal morphology. To this end, we work on diseases in which neuronal shape is abnormal, such as intellectual disability and epilepsy. 

Our focus is on a unique molecule, doublecortin, which is a microtubule binding protein. Doublecortin (Dcx) regulates molecular motors in developing neurons and neurons deficient in doublecortin have abnormally short axons and dendrites. When patients have mutations in the gene that encodes Dcx, they can have a condition called lissencephaly which is associated with severe intellectual disability and seizures.