J.H. Horne Lab
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Jack Horne
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Jack Horne in the News

The Big Picture

The overarching interest of my lab is to understand which genes control the development of the brain. The basic function of the brain, or nervous system, is to receive inputs from the environment, process that information, and then tell the rest of the body what to do. The brain does this with an extremely complex array of nerve cells (neurons), whose main function is to connect with and talk to other neurons. The network of connections that make up the brain is complex. Each neuron may receive signals from thousands of other neurons, and send out signals to a
different set of a thousand neurons. When considering that humans have billions of neurons, the concept of the brain begins to seriously confuse – at least my brain. Fortunately, for us neurobiologists, the brain is highly organized, and we’ve learned that just understanding the shape and structure of the individual neurons within this organization tells us a lot about which neurons they’re communicating with, and what types of circuits they’re forming. 

In my lab we’re taking advantage of this organization and asking a simpler question: Which genes are necessary for a particular type of neuron to acquire its very unique shape? 
As a model system, we are using the development of the brain in embryos of the small aquarium fish, commonly called zebrafish (Dani rerio for aficionados).  One great advantage of zebrafish is that their embryos are essentially transparent during stages of development when the basic structure of the brain is established.  Fortunately, the underlying structure of the vertebrate brain is similar from fish to humans; thus, genes that are necessary for the development of the zebrafish brain are likely to have human counterparts that have a similar function.  Using zebrafish, and a system for expressing a fluorescent protein in the early developing neurons, we can actually watch the brain grow in live embryos.  You can see examples of this scattered throughout our website.  See “Research” for the nuts and bolts.


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