Demystifying the process of motor neuron formation

The process of spinal motor formation has long served as a paradigm for our understanding of the mechanisms governing cell fate specification and differentiation in the nervous system.  In collaboration with James Briscoe's group at the Francis Crick Institute, we under the inner workings of this process, using single cell gene expression profiling to define the transcriptional changes that occur during motor neuron formation.  This information led to our finding that one of the key events in this process is the progressive increase in the expression of the transcription factor Olig2, which leads to repression of Hes genes, downstream effectors of the Notch signaling pathway, thereby initiating neuronal differentation at a characteristicaly early time in embryonic development.  Check out our paper published in PLoS Biology here, and some associated press releases from UCLA and the Crick.