Wellcome to the Lillesaar group!
Research focus: Zebrafish neurodevelopment and disease models
The adult human brain is estimated to contain about 86 billion nerve cells. However, the nerve cells are not all the same. They differ widely in their physical and chemical properties and they serve distinct functions. We are particularly interested in the serotonergic neurons, i. e. the neurons synthesizing and releasing serotonin, in the vertebrate brain. Serotonin is one of the major neurotransmitters/modulators in the brain and is found in the entire animal kingdom. In vertebrates, serotonin is involved in modulating multiple brain functions and behaviors including for instance mood, anxiety, appetite, reproduction and sleep. Accordingly, dysfunctions of the serotonergic system are implicated in several of our most common mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety-disorders as well as autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Further, current data suggests that serotonin not only acts as a neurotransmitter, but also influences the formation and plasticity of the brain, and can thereby regulate our behavior via mechanisms other than just as a “classical” neurotransmitter. Although half a century has passed since the serotonergic neurons of the brain were first described, many fundamental properties of these cells still remains enigmatic, and their critical role in mental disorders makes our understanding of their multi-faceted functions highly relevant for our society. We are addressing basic questions regarding the development, function and organization of central serotonergic neurons. For our research we are combining genetic tools, imaging and behavior, using the genetically tractable zebrafish as a model organism.
Specifically, our work encompasses the following ongoing projects:
1) Deciphering the signaling pathways and transcriptional networks leading to the generation of serotonergic neurons
2) Ultrastructural investigations of serotonergic release sites
3) Testing the role of genes implicated in developmental psychiatric disorders
Murthy Chavali, PhD student
Wonhyeok Lee, MD student
Christina Lillesaar, group leader
Carina Nilp, PhD student
Isabel Reuter, PhD student
University of Würzburg
Biocenter Am Hubland
Tel. +49 (0)931 31 80812