One of the fundamental issues in the field of developmental biology is to understand the mechanisms that control the identity of individual cells and their connections within their environment. The task of establishing appropriate cell types and patterns of connectivity is uniquely complex in the nervous system, where a diverse variety of neuronal types integrate together to form the components and circuits indispensable for nervous system function.
Here, using state of the art technologies, we propose to identify the molecular network that, through iterative interactions, controls each step of the developmental programs of proprioceptive and nociceptive sensory neurons, from birth, through diversification, axonal growth and synaptic connectivity. In parallel, we propose for the first time to identify, anatomically (Connectome) and genetically (Transcriptome) the different pools of sensory neurons that connect individual forelimb muscles to the central nervous system, a specific wiring which reflects the critical contribution of sensory feedback pathways to the coordination of movement.
Over the long term, these studies will provide significant insights into the fundamental principles involved in the proper formation of the nervous system as well as new strategies for the design of more effective pain therapies and for promoting topographically specific nerve regeneration following spinal injury.