Determine how neurons respond to patterned surfaces and nanofabricated structures
The formation of the nervous system depends on the unique ability of neurons to extend long axonal and dendritic processes tipped by motile growth cones that connect with distant cells. During this journey growth cones encounter a complex environment that they must navigate correctly to form a functional nervous system. A major question is how developing neurons accomplish this remarkable feat with such precision and how we might recapitulate developmental processes to regenerate a damaged nervous system. Growth cones encounter membrane-bound and diffusible guidance cues that are attractive, permissive and repulsive. Moreover, growth cones also react to physical structures in which they come into contact. This research is focused on how growth cones read these different molecular cues and geometric structures to form specific networks (Fig. 5). By understanding the “rules” growth cones use to navigate nanopatterned surfaces and nanofabricated structures we will be better positioned to create reproducible neuronal networks on demand.