(Alternate URL: http://www.hhmi.org/research/investigators/moens.html
The Moens lab studies four fundamental questions in developmental biology. The first is how a planar epithelium, the neural plate, folds and then cavitates to form the neural tube, the second is how this apparently homogeneous neuroepithelium becomes patterned along its anterior-posterior axis into segments with distinct molecular and neuroanatomical identities, the third is how morphological boundaries form between these segmental domains, and the last is how cells move in a directed way through this complex patterned environment. We address all four questions in the context of the developing zebrafish hindbrain, which has a distinct and well-characterized anterior-posterior polarity divided into morphological segments called rhombomeres, and in which stereotyped migrations occur that position neurons in their functionally relevant contexts. We use the zebrafish as a model system because all four processes, which take place in the first five weeks of human development, occur in rapid sequence during the first two days of zebrafish development. The zebrafish is also optically transparent, externally developing embryo that is exquisitely accessible to embryological manipulation and live imaging. The availability of mutants generated through forward and reverse genetic approaches makes it possible for us to identify the genes and the genetic pathways that regulate these important events in the development of the vertebrate brain.