Neural Development

A fundamental quest in neuroscience is to understand the spatio-temporal development of neural diversity as well as the mechanisms leading to neuronal connections. Achieving a thorough understanding of these processes is of crucial importance to gain insight into how a complex brain is built, and how these could be compromised in disease and neurodegenerative disorders.   

Drosophila is a prime model system that is extensively used because of the powerful genetic toolkit available, which allowed countless discoveries that have shaped our knowledge in various fields of Biology. Our lab studies the visual system of Drosophila which provides a powerful model for studying diverse aspects of neural circuit development, organization, and disease.  This is due to the relative simplicity of this brain structure that still allows sophisticated behaviors and acrobatic flying at high speed. It comprises four neuropils (lamina, medulla, lobula and lobula plate), that together comprise 200 neuronal subtypes that are essential for processing various visual stimuli. 

The main questions of the Desplan lab are:  

  1. What are the mechanisms involved in neural stem cell division to produce the vast diversity of neurons in the brain?  
  2. How are the highly specific connections between different populations of neurons formed during development to generate functional neural circuits?

To address these questions, we employ an array of the latest technology, including:

  1. Live imaging: These experiments allow us to identify the mechanisms of stem cell division and neural specification.
  2. Transcriptome analysis: These data allow us to identify all the genes that optic lobe neurons express at multiple stages of development, giving us deep insights into how the diversity of these neurons is established during development.
  3. Genetic manipulations: A wide array of genetic tools allow us to label and manipulate specific neuronal populations to understand the mechanisms of brain development and formation.

The Desplan lab has contributed significantly to understanding the mechanisms controlling how the division of neural stem cells and gene regulation establish complex functional neural networks.  The extensive knowledge that we accumulated from Drosophila allowed us to study how other organisms such as the swallowtail and painted lady butterflies, the jumping ants, and Dolichopodidae flies have adapted their visual system to their specific ecological conditions.  

More recently, the Desplan lab started studying the red palm weevil, a severe pest worldwide that attacks 40 palm tree species, including date palms, which are the most commercially important species in the UAE. In the Gulf Region, the annual loss due to the elimination of severely infested date palms has been estimated to reach several million dollars. Our research aims to gain insight into the red palm weevil brain organization and gene regulation that will aid in directing pest regulation efforts through genetic control by introducing deleterious mutations into the population. To learn more about Claude Desplan's NYU Lab.

Principal Investigator

Researchers