Molecular mechanisms of phenotype determination in BNST forebrain neurons
The complexity of adult brain function is largely met by the networking of a multitude of neurons, but there is also a requirement for different types of neuron.
Neuronal sub-types have signature gene profiles that determine cell-specific aspects of function. Although neuronal phenotype is initially set during embryonic development, recent studies have found that many types of neuron exhibit phenotypic conversion, following environmental change, for example. Our laboratory has been studying the molecular mechanisms that control neuronal phenotype, and one experimental paradigm involves a brain region called the Bed Nucleus of the Stria Terminalis (BNST). The BNST is a small group of neurons that forms a relay station, integrating communication between numerous other brain centers that regulate physiological and behavioural states. Unsurprisingly, dysfunction in this group of brain cells is implicated in a number of neuro-diseases, and, because it has a sexually dimorphic organization, may contribute to sex differences in disease incidence. We have developed a transgenic model for studying BNST postnatal development, identifying transient neuronal phenotypes characterized by expression of a particular transcription factor. Study of this model at a postgraduate level would involve laboratory research and provide training in molecular neuroscience techniques.