Organogenesis involves epithelial morphogenesis, a process where simple sheets of epithelial cells give rise to more complex 3D shapes. Development of skin appendages, organs that form as derivatives of the embryonic skin, is regulated by inductive tissue interactions between the ectodermal epithelium and the underlying mesenchyme.
We use mammary glands and hair follicles as model organs to study epithelial morphogenesis. These organs develop through similar steps: initially a local thickening (called placode) forms concomitantly with specification and clustering of the underlying mesenchymal cells. Only at later stages becomes organ-specific morphogenesis (follicular downgrowth vs. branching) evident. We focus on two important morphogenetic processes: placode/mesenchymal condensate formation and mammary ductal invasion and branching morphogenesis. We aim to uncover the molecular and cellular mechanims driving these processes, and how they are perturbed during disease such as congenital malformations or tumorigenesis. We also strive to understand how cell fates become specified during morphogenesis. To reach these goals, we use mouse models and state-of-the-art technologies such as live 3D imaging of developing organs at single cell resolution and next-generation sequencing including single-cell RNAseq.