School of Medicine

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  • Nicolas Denans

    Nicolas Denans

    Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Developmental Biology

    Current Research and Scholarly InterestsI am interested in deciphering how cells communicate within intricate landscape and over long distance to establish precise gradients of signaling molecules that pattern many organs during vertebrate development. . For decades, most classical textbooks have conceptualized such signaling proteins as “diffusible” molecules, known as morphogens, that transverse many cell diameters to pattern a field of cells. Recently, our lab, using a novel high resolution live imaging method, showed that, in the vertebrate limb, all cells extend very long and thin actin-based cellular protrusions termed specialized filopodia that connect cells over long distance. Moreover, they showed that a morphogen, Sonic Hedgehog, can travel along this meshwork of filopodia and hypothesize that morphogen transport through filopodia could account for the precise formation of morphogen gradients that pattern the limb bud. These filopodia are actin-based thus the main challenge is to be able to manipulate them without affecting the rest of the actin cytoskeleton. Currently, by combining live cell imaging, bioengineering and optogenetic I am trying to precisely manipulate these filopodia (modify size, orientation, formation) to directly assess their function in long-range cell communication and signaling gradient establishment.