Enteric Nervous System (ENS) Development and Differentiation
The ENS is a vast branch of the peripheral nervous system resident within the entire gut. It is also known as the gut brain and an essential portion of the gut-brain-axis. The main constituents of the ENS are hundreds of thousands of neurons and glia embedded within the walls of the gut. The ENS exhibits diverse enteric neuron subtypes and glial cells, which together regulates gut peristalsis, water balance and hormone secretions. While we know that the ENS is largely derived from the neural crest, we still know very little about its vast in vivo construction in the context of the gut
During zebrafish embryonic development, enteric neural crest cells migrate into the primitive gut as two migratory chains, surround the gut tube, and turn into neurons by the 5th day in development in order to form the ENS. Zebrafish offer a simplified vertebrate model to study ENS development.
In our lab, we seek to understand how the ENS differentiates from the neural crest:
We investigate how signaling factors, and other microenvironmental cues, interact with neural crest cells and gut tissues to orchestrate early ENS tissue patterning. We are also keen to understand the genetic underpinnings of enteric neuron diversification into specific neuron types.
We leverage whole animal time-lapse live imaging and single cell tracking experiments to resolve the complex emergence of enteric neurons in the zebrafish gut, as shown on video left.
Our recent study here https://doi.org/10.1242/dev.200668, in which we observed that enteric neural crest cells couple proliferation, migration speed, and cell density, to ensure proper gut tube colonization and timing of enteric neuron differentiation.