Final blog post: Summary and future directions

This summer, I investigated the plasticity of the anterior-posterior axis in the developing nervous system of Xenopus laevis.  In order to research this topic, I performed transplant experiments on embryos while they were undergoing gastrulation, which consisted of removing and rotating an embryo’s anterior-posterior neural axis 180 degrees. I then observed the embryos as they developed to see under which conditions they were able to recover from this transplant surgery. I looked at embryos that underwent either rotated or control surgeries during either the mid- or late-gastrula stage. My analyses of “recovery ability” included assessing both the morphology and gene expression of embryos after they reached the hatching stage of development.

So far, it seems that embryos can recover from neural axis rotation early in gastrulation but fail to recover later in gastrulation. The next step in my project is to investigate the mechanisms behind this shift in recovery ability. Embryos change drastically throughout development, so it’s not surprising that I’m seeing a time-specific change. However, a Xenopus embryo progresses from mid- to late-gastrula stage in about two hours, which is a very brief window of time. This semester, I’ll be working on the same project in my lab, and I hope to discover more about the mechanism behind these findings.

This research on neural plasticity has potential applications to the treatment of physical neural trauma as well as neurodegenerative diseases in humans. It’s amazing that the frog embryos I work with are able to recover from such a massive perturbation early in their development. If I or other researchers in the field could figure out some of the mechanisms behind this incredible ability to heal and even re-specify cell identity, findings could possibly be applied to humans. That’s a long way in the future, but I’m looking forward to seeing the field of neural plasticity continue to advance!