Are you curious about how living organisms develop? How a single cell becomes a complex multi-cellular organism? How undifferentiated cells choose specific fates allowing them to sense the environment, conduct electrical signals, or form protective barriers? How some tissues can grow and regenerate after injury but others can't? Come visit my lab to see how we’re trying to address some of these basic questions by studying zebrafish eye and brain development.

Image of Kara CervenyGuiding Vision: To understand how tissues of the appropriate size and composition are formed by learning how neuronal stem cells behave in the growing zebrafish retina.

Our Mission: To uncover how neuronal progenitors transition from proliferation to differentiation. Specific research projects employ precise embryological and imaging techniques, requiring creativity, time management, patience, critical thinking, and a sense of wonder. We value curiosity, dedication, and kindness.

Specific Aims & Questions: We examine the growing eyes and brains of zebrafish, investigating the formation and maintenance of neural stem cell niches in the retina and tectum. Many of our experiments are designed to uncover new clues about how the environment around a cell can influence its ability to proliferate or differentiate, a behavior with implications for developmental diseases, including many types of cancer. By analyzing behaviors of mutant cells grafted into wild-type retinae, monitoring cell cycle progression in the developing eye, and interrogating how specific extrinsic signals impinge on cell cycle exit, we investigate how local environmental signals influence cell cycle exit and differentiation of neuronal progenitors. On-going projects are designed to:

(1) Explain why distinct classes of retinal progenitors appear to be more or less sensitive to differentiation cues from the local environment
(2) Quantitatively dissect cell cycle kinetics of retinal stem and progenitor cells in vivo
(3) Define how specific extrinsically modulated pathways, including Hedgehog, TGF-β, Notch, and Retinoic Acid control cell cycle exit and differentiation of retinal progenitors emerging from their stem cell niche.

For more information about these research projects and potential thesis topics, check out the Cerveny Lab Research webpage or make an appointment to chat with Kara about contributing to our research on cell behaviors in developing organisms.