F A C U L T Y   P R O F I L E 

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Vice Chair and Professor of Physiology & Cellular Biophysics
Professor of Neuroscience
Co-Director of Graduate Studies Department Physiology & Cellular Biophysics

Cell Specification and Differentiation, Axon Pathfinding and Synaptogenesis, Synapses and Circuit Development.


Current Research

We are studying the molecular and cellular events that regulate the early development and organization of the central nervous system. We focus on aspects of the guidance of axons as they form circuits. To determine the nature of axonal guidance cues and the mechanisms by which growth cones respond to them, we study the earliest axonal pathways in the developing spinal cord. This system allows us to ask questions of general relevance to the development of the CNS such as why and how do projection neurons extend axons across the midline? How are the various responses to distinct but simultaneous cues coordinated in the growth cone? We use a combination of in vitro assays in combination with antibodies and molecular markers that define cellular components of the developing spinal cord in genetically tractable models of mouse.

We have identified several components of a guidance system that contributes to the projection patterns of subsets of spinal sensory relay neurons. Most projection neurons of the dorsal spinal cord share an initial axonal path: they extend axons circumferentially and ventrally away from the dorsal midline of the neural tube. But a decision is then made to form or join ipsilateral tracts or to cross the ventral midline and join contralateral tracts towards central targets. One aspect of our work is to examine how this choice is programmed in individual neurons and we are using neuron specific viral tracing techniques to define the developing central pathways.

At a mechanistic level, we are interested in the cell biology underlying the orientation of the cytoskeleton of the growing tips of axons by guidance cues. We have found that bone morphogenetic factors (BMPs) act as guidance cues. BMPs have dual signaling roles, as both growth factors, activating transcriptional programs, and acute orienting factors, signaling the cytoskeleton in non-transcriptional ways. We are currently exploring the detailed mechanisms of BMP receptor activation that underlie these dual roles in dorsal spinal neurons.

Selected Publications

Perron, J. C. and Dodd, J. (2012) Structural distinctions in BMPs underlie divergent signaling in spinal neurons. Neural Dev. Neural Development, 7:16

Perron, J. C. and Dodd, J. (2011) Inductive specification and axonal orientation of spinal neurons mediated by divergent bone morphogenetic protein signaling pathways. Neural Dev. 6:36

Perron, J. C. and Dodd, J. (2009) ActRIIA and BMPRII Type II BMP receptor subunits selectively required for Smad4-independent BMP7-evoked chemotaxis. PLoS One. 4(12):e8198

Wilson, S. I., Shafer, B., Lee, K. J. and Dodd, J. (2008) A molecular program for contralateral trajectory: Rig-1 control by LIM homeodomain transcription factors. Neuron 59:413-424

Dodd, J., and Kolodkin, A.L. 2005. Development: edging towards circuitry, behavior and disease. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 15:1-6. Review.

Butler ,S.J., and Dodd J. 2003. A role for BMP heterodimers in roof plate-mediated repulsion of commissural axons. Neuron. 38:389-401.

Augsburger, A., Schuchardt, A., Hoskins, S., Dodd, J., and Butler, S. 1999. BMPs as mediators of roof plate repulsion of commissural neurons. Neuron. 24:127-41.

Dale, K., Vesque, C., Sattar, N., Lints, T., Sampath, K., Furley, A., Dodd, J., Placzek, M. 1997. Cooperation of BMP7 and SHH in the induction of forebrain ventral midline cells by prechordal mesoderm. Cell 90:257-269

Shah, S.B., Skromne, I., Hume, C.R., Kessler, D.S., Lee, K.J, Stern, C.D., and Dodd, J. 1997. Misexpression of chick Vg1 in the marginal zone induces primitive streak formation. Development 124:5127-5138.

Placzek, M., Jessell, T.M., Dodd, J. 1993. Induction of floor plate differentiation by contact-dependent, homeogenetic signals. Development 117:205-218.

Dodd, J., Jessell, T.M. 1988. Axon guidance and the patterning of neuronal connections. Science 242:692-699.