My research background is in cancer biology, neurobiology, and stem cell biology. I am interested in how extracellular signals are integrated within stem cells to direct self-renewal, proliferation, and the generation of committed progeny. Rapidly dividing progenitor cells share many molecular features with cancer cells, and the pathways regulating neural stem cells are frequently disrupted or altered in tumorigenesis. My laboratory focuses on a unique germinal niche in the brain: the subventricular zone (SVZ). In the mouse, this region generates thousands of young neurons every week – a remarkable process in a largely quiescent tissue. Understanding how long-lived neural stem cells survive, proliferate and differentiate will provide insight into the etiology and treatment of brain tumors.
My lab combines in vitro and in vivo approaches to address two major questions in the field: How are the many extracellular signals acting on neural progenitors integrated to maintain the adult germinal zone? What are the consequences of disrupting these signaling pathways in specific neural progenitor populations? In addition to their functions in normal homeostasis, mutations in proliferative pathways – in particular, the growth factors PDGF and EGF and the downstream effector BRaf – are common in pediatric and adult forebrain tumors. Ectopic stimulation of these pathways in murine neural progenitors results in hyperplastic growth and invasion into surrounding tissue, suggesting that aberrant signaling in progenitors may be the initiating event(s) in gliomas. Research in my laboratory focuses on the fundamental biology of neural stem cells and progenitor-like tumor cells: how signals from the niche environment combine to affect stem cell maintenance, neurogenesis, and positional identity, and how mutations in these signaling pathways affect the survival, invasion, and proliferation of tumor cells.