Sijia Zhang

Understanding the Directed Outgrowth of the C. elegans Hermaphrodite-Specific Neurons

Directed cell migration and axon guidance are critical for the assembly and connectivity of nervous systems. How neuronal cells are able to establish precise connectivity is a major challenge in developmental neurobiology. Caenorhabditis elegans is an excellent model to address this question due to the simplicity of its nervous system and a well-characterized cell lineage.
I will focus on the Hermaphrodite-Specific Neurons (HSN), which undergo extensive migrations during development. Proper navigation of the HSN growth cones, the structures that navigate through the nervous system to reach their targets, relies on their selective adhesion to pre-established neuron tracks. This selectivity is mediated through the cell adhesion molecule, FMI-1, an ortholog of the atypical cadherin family. How this navigation is mediated in a selective manner is unknown. I will investigate what neurons the HSNs use for specific contacts in order to migrate properly. Identifying the mechanisms that enable the HSNs to establish proper targeting and connectivity will provide insight to how other neurons are directed to their final positions.

Message to Sponsor

The SURF fellowship provided invaluable support for me to conduct research over the summer at the Garriga Lab. The opportunity to see the concepts I learn in my biology classes translated into real-life research questions is extremely meaningful to me. In the future, I hope to become a physician, and understanding the fundamentals of scientific research is undoubtedly necessary. I am honored that the Rose Hills donors find it worthwhile to invest in our interests, and I have been inspired and motivated by this experience to continue exploring the field of genetics and neurobiology.
  • Major: Molecular and Cell Biology, Anthropology
  • Mentor: Gian Garriga