Correct development of the nose is necessary for detection of environmental odorants but is also crucial for maturation and function of the reproductive system. In fact, during embryonic development a population of neurons, called gonadotropin-releasing hormone-1 neurons (GnRH-1), migrate from the nose to the brain. Once in the brain, these neurons control the reproductive axis. Genetic defects that affect the formation of the nasal/olfactory structures, as well as migration, survival and/or function of GnRH-1 neurons lead to aberrant sexual development and sterility. Our understanding of who are the stem cells and what is the embryonic origin in the developing nose has only recently began, which leaves many blanks yet to be filled.
Formation of the nose is the result of communication and interaction of contributing cells of different embryonic origin, in particular placodal cells (which form most of the olfactory/vomeronasal epithelium) and neural crest cells (which give rise to bones, cartilage and olfactory glia cells). Defects in craniofacial development, olfaction and sexual development have been linked in a growing number of human syndromes.
Our lab is interested in unravelling:
- What are the different cell populations in the nasal area, and what is their role during embryonic development?
- What is the role played by different cell types in normal and pathological development of the olfactory and GnRH-1 system?
- How do neurons in the nose acquire their specific identity? What signals control their terminal differentiation?
- Which genes are involved, and what are the molecular mechanisms at the base of placodal/neural crest interaction and the determination of neurogenic niches?
Our investigative approach is based on in vivo and ex-vivo observations using mouse lines carrying genetic mutations that mimic human developmental pathologies as well as animal models that allow us to selectively trace or genetically manipulate specific cells types.