The ability to form new or dissolve old synaptic contacts is a fundamental property of neurons and the nervous system. This ‘plasticity’ underlies development, learning and memory, and adaptation to external stimuli such as to stress and injury.
The Collins lab is interested in the cellular mechanisms that neurons use to alter synaptic structure in response to environmental and developmental cues. Of particular interest is the cell biology of signaling within axons, which connect neurons to distant parts of the brain and body. How do signals traverse the long distance in axons from the synapse to the nucleus? And how do neurons interpret the signals in order to change specific aspects of their axonal or dendritic processes?
An important kind of information that neurons respond to is that of axonal damage. How do neurons detect and respond to damage at a distant site of injury? Many neurons have the capacity to re-grow (regenerate) axons after injury. What is the cellular machinery that promotes this response?
To address these questions, we combine approaches of live imaging, molecular genetics, biochemistry and cell biology, using Drosophila as a model organism. We have recently developed assays for axonal injury, regeneration and degeneration in Drosophila larvae. These assays take advantage of the simple neuroanatomy, powerful genetics and amenability to live imaging of Drosophila, to dissect the cellular mechanisms of injury response and regeneration in neurons.