Our research combines methods of cell, molecular and developmental biology with the aim of understanding how certain genes guide the formation of mammalian organs during ontogenesis. Genes that produce transcription factors play a key role during development, since these factors regulate the expression of other genes and, consequently, the differentiation of cells for various functions. For example, in the brain various combinations of transcription factors generate the production of, among other things, a range of neurotransmitters, which in turn enable important communication between neurons.
The regions of the mesencephalon and metencephalon, or the mid- and hindbrain, contain a great many different types of neurons, which together regulate behaviour, mood, memory, movement and other traits in humans and animals. Even though the functional significance of the neurons in these brain regions is well known, the genes that control their differentiation are yet to be fully understood. In other words, it is not yet known how different types of neurons specialise in producing a specific neurotransmitter and, through that, influencing behaviour.
Genetically modified mouse models were used to demonstrate that transcription factors in the GATA family are needed during development for both the formation of the inner ear and the differentiation of neurons in the mesencephalon. The purpose of further studies is to investigate, in particular, how these transcription factors, together with other factors, affect the formation of diversity among neurons that guide behaviour.
A central goal of our research in genetics is to investigate hereditary and environmental risk factors related to morphology, behaviour and diseases in dogs and cats.
The mapping of the canine and feline genomes has opened unique avenues to identifying the hereditary diseases, structure, colour, size and behavioural traits of different breeds. Our goal is to identify gene defects associated with pets’ hereditary diseases and traits in order to develop gene tests to support breeding. Gene discoveries help understand disease mechanisms, and related knowledge is applied to investigating human diseases as well as developing diagnostics and improved therapies.
Since 2006, the Canine Models of Human Disease research group has compiled one of the largest canine and feline biobanks in the world, with samples from just under 100,000 animals and hundreds of different breeds. Dozens of gene discoveries have been made for a range of diseases, including various forms of epilepsy as well as nerve degeneration, ocular diseases, skeletal muscle diseases, developmental disorders, deafness and anxiety disorders. The research group has established novel methods for measuring animal personality and behaviour, also investigating related hereditary and environmental risk factors.
The research is international and networked, combining basic research with clinical research.