Sonia Sen

Programme: Neurodevelopment and behaviour of Drosophila and Anopheles

The nervous system enables animals to sense their environment and respond to it appropriately. So, it is vital for this organ, with its astounding diversity of cell types and complexity of connections, to be assembled accurately during development. How does the genome of a limited size, and neural stem cells of a limited number encode such complexity, and how then does it control behaviour? Our group uses Drosophila and Anopheles to understand different aspects of neural development and behaviour.

In Drosophila, the identity of every neural stem cell and its lineal progeny is known. We take advantage of this to study the transcription factor networks that determine their unique identities. Such an understanding will allow us to re-programme stem cells to reverse engineer neurons of choice. We use functional genomics, imaging, and genetics and collaborate with bioinformaticians and modelers to understand this process. In Anopheles, we develop tools to study neural-development as well as to understand how internal state impacts feeding behaviours.

Neural stem cells use two axes of information – spatial and temporal – to generate diverse neurons.

A. NSCs first experience spatial patterning in the form of early embryonic patterning genes – or ‘spatial transcription factors’ (sTFs) – as they form on the neuroectoderm. This diversifies the NSCs. B. Then, they experience temporal patterning in the form of a series of ‘temporal transcription factors’ (tTFs), as they generate different neurons over time. This generates further diversity. The combination of spatial and temporal patterning generates the entire complement of neurons in the nervous system. C. diverse neurons born from a single NSC are functionally related – they innervate similar regions in the brain.

The Neurodevelopment and Behaviour team

Left to right, top row: Sonia Sen, Pooja DB, Ayanthi Bhattacharya, Sonali Kadam.

Left to Right, bottom row: Roshini Pillai, Varnika Kundadka, Mandar Naik, Hemalatha Rao