Our brains are made up of millions of neurons that are highly specialized in order to carry out different functions. The vast majority of these neurons are born during a brief period of development and it is clear that a specific population of cells, referred to as ‘stem’ or ‘progenitor’ cells, give birth to these by successively dividing. Establishing what controls these stem cells, in terms of when they divide and what identity they impose on their progeny, is fundamental to our understanding of how the brain develops. And yet our knowledge about these processes is very incomplete. Progress in this area has been limited because many techniques use fixed tissue or involve labeling heterogeneous populations of cells. It is for these reasons that recent live cell imaging studies of single cells have had a tremendous impact.
A significant advance in the field of neural development has been the appreciation that radial glial cells are stem cells and give birth to multiple types of neuron in the brain. In order to advance this exciting area of biology, we need approaches that combine structural and functional studies of these cells in their natural environment. Dr Akerman’s research group has developed methods for observing individual radial progenitor cells and their progeny in the intact brain. Using a combination of single- and multi-photon confocal imaging, with electrophysiological recordings and molecular biology techniques, this work is revealing the rich variety of signals that radial progenitor cells receive from their neighbouring cells and surrounding tissue. The group is now working to understand what these signals are, how they regulate cell divisions and ultimately how they influence the identity of the neural progeny.
Sources of Funding
- BBSRC 2007- 2009
- MRC 2008- 2010
- Research Councils UK 2006- 2010
- British Pharmacological Society 2006- 2010
Dr. Akerman holds Masters degrees in Neuroscience (Oxford) and Psychology (Edinburgh). He conducted his doctoral studies in the Department of Physiology, Oxford, where he worked with Professor Ian Thompson on the role of early synaptic activity in the development of the mammalian thalamus and cortex. Following the completion of his DPhil in 2001, Dr Akerman was awarded a Wellcome Trust Fellowship which he held in the laboratory of Professor Holly Cline at Cold Spring Harbor Labs in New York. In 2006 Dr Akerman returned to Oxford and was awarded an RCUK Academic Research Fellowship to work in the Pharmacology Department where he has now established his own research group. Dr Akerman is also the Corange Fellow and Tutor for Medicine at Corpus Christi College.