School of Biological and Chemical Sciences

Xingxing Zhong


PhD student



Project Title: The evolutionary history of adult neurogenesis in deuterostomes

Summary: Adult neurogenesis is a widely studied phenomenon in the central nervous systems of vertebrates, and is of great interest for very important biological and biomedical reasons, not least of which is the potential for therapeutic insights into brain regeneration. In mammals adult neurogenesis is confined to a small number of regions of the forebrain. In contrast, in anamniotes (fish, amphibians), a huge proportion of the brain is subject to continuing neurogenesis throughout life. Mechanistically, much is known regarding the gene regulatory networks that govern adult neurogenesis. However, the evolutionary history of this phenomenon is very poorly characterised. Therefore, in this project adult neurogenesis will be investigated in two invertebrate deuterostomian species: the starfish Asterias rubens (phylum Echinodermata) and the lancelet Branchiostoma lanceolatum (phylum Cephalochordata). Taking advantage of the genome/transcriptome sequence data available for Branchiostoma and Asterias, molecular approaches for examining gene expression (cloning of cDNAs, mRNA in situ hybridization, immunohistochemistry) in adult specimens will elucidate the extent of adult neurogenic activity. Techniques for pulse labeling of DNA, gene knockdown and pharmacological inhibition of protein function will also be employed. Taken together, combined experimental and comparative approaches, in addition to the dual perspective gained from examining invertebrate species from two deuterostome phyla, will illuminate understanding of the mechanisms and evolutionary origins of adult neurogenesis.