The complex functions of our nervous system rely on the correct wiring of neurons which is primarily established during embryonic and early postnatal development. The so-called growth cone at the tip of an extending axon is a highly dynamic fan-like structure that explores its environment by protruding and retracting filopodia and lamellipodia. It steers the axon over distances that may stretch over several centimeters to its target region where synaptic contacts are formed. The molecular analysis of axonal pathfinding has led to the identification of several protein families that act in concert to guide axons to their target region. These protein families have been categorized as being chemoattractive or chemorepulsive. They function at both long and short ranges. Within this broad framework of attraction and repulsion, however, several aspects of neuronal connectivity are less understood including the subcellular targeting of axons, axonal branching, dendritic tree formation, and the induction of synapses as well the role of neuronal activity on the modulation of circuits. The Rathjen group focuses on two subtopics of the “wiring” problem: on (1) axonal branching and on (2) links between neuronal activity and proteins implicated in structural modeling of the brain.
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