Neurons feel the force: mechanics in the nervous system Key aspects in the development and regeneration of the central nervous system include the formation of neuronal axons and their subsequent growth and guidance through the tissue. These processes involve motion and must thus be driven by forces. However, while our understanding of the biochemical and molecular control of these processes is increasing rapidly, how cellular forces and mechanical tissue properties contribute remains poorly understood. To tackle this problem, we take an interdisciplinary approach by combining tools from biology, physics and engineering. For projects, requirements are high levels of enthusiasm and curiosity, a background in physics or engineering is not necessary. Possible PhD projects include: - Investigating different aspects of neuronal mechanosensitivity,e.g., calcium dynamics or axonal growth velocities as a function of substrate stiffness, etc. - Developing novel, mechanically complex cell culture substrates to study if axons are guided by mechanical stimuli. - Quantifying forces exerted by immature neuronal processes to test our hypothesis that forces drive axon formation, i.e., growth cones of future axons pull stronger than those of dendrites, using traction force microscopy - Measuring brain and spinal cord stiffness during development or after injury using atomic force microscopy In this project, you will work in an interdisciplinary environment. You will learn how to communicate with scientists coming from different disciplines and pick up approaches and tricks from different fields. You will learn different cutting edge experimental techniques and get insight into automated, quantitative data analysis and image processing.
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- Betz T, Koch D, Lu YB, Franze K, Käs J: Growth cones as soft and weak force generators. PNAS 108(33):13420-13425 (2011)