Hugo Bellen's research interests include (1) neuronal communication and maintenance, (2) development of tools to control transcript and protein levels in adult neurons to assess which proteins are required for neuronal function and survival, and (3) the creation of genome-wide libraries to manipulate genes in vivo. His lab uses Drosophila melanogaster as a model system because most biological processes are evolutionarily conserved and studies in fruit flies provide many important clues about the aging process in animals and humans.
The Life and Death of a Neuron
How neurons acquire their identity, how they communicate with each other, and ultimately, how they die are the key research areas in my lab. We designed genetic screens to identify novel genes that affect these processes in fruit flies. Hence, our research allows us to increase the understanding of human neurodegenerative diseases such as ALS, Parkinson’s disease, Friedreich’s ataxia, Leigh syndrome, and many others.
A recent screen on the X chromosome (Yamamoto et al., 2014, Cell; Haelterman et al., 2014, Genome Research) allowed us to isolate components that affect neuronal development and function, as well as neuronal survival. We have mapped more than 165 new genes and are studying the phenotypes associated with the loss of many of these genes in much more detail, using electrophysiology, transmission electron microscopy, immunohistochemistry, cell biology techniques, and sophisticated genetic manipulations. The challenge is to unravel the molecular and cellular mechanisms by which the phenotypes arise and how they affect neurodegeneration. Applicants are welcome to work on any aspect of this research, including mapping of genes, molecular identification of the genes of interest, or characterization of cell biology phenotypes associated with the loss of a gene.