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Linker Group

The Linker Group

Group leader: Dr Claudia Linker

The primary aim of our research group is to elucidate the mechanisms that underlie the migration and differentiation of Neural Crest cells. Neural Crest cells are a transient migratory population that arise early during embryonic development, differentiates into a wide range of cell types (including neurons, glial cells, cartilage, melanocytes, etc.) and migrate extensively colonising virtually all the tissues of the embryo. Neural Crest cells share numerous characteristics with cancer cell, but are readily accessible to morphological and molecular analysis

These features make Neural Crest cells a particularly attractive model system to study the molecular signals regulating cell migration and fate determination. The combination of genetics tools, offered by zebrafish transgenic lines, with live cell imaging permit the study these questions in vivo. Recently we have developed transgenic lines (Movie) that allow us to follow in vivo the entire neural crest population. With this tools we are developing automated computational algorithms that permit the quantitative analysis of neural crest migration.

To study the molecular cascade involved in Neural Crest migration and differentiation we have developed the Mosaic Analysis system in Zebrafish (MAZe). This system allow us to follow in live embryos single cells, fluorescently marked and genetically altered, permitting the study of the molecular cascade controlling the migration, and at the same time the in vivo cellular analysis of this process. Moreover we are able for the first time to approach genetically the clonal study of Neural Crest differentiation.

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Given the importance of cell migration and differentiation in many biological processes, from embryogenesis to tissue homeostasis, and their implication in many types of cancers, our findings in Neural Crest cells will shed light on the mechanism of metastasis and may unveil novel targets for cancer therapies.

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