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We study cell adhesion and the actomyosin cytoskeleton and how it is regulated during cell and tissue morphogenesis in health and disease. Cell adhesion and actomyosin contractility are mediated by a complex network of structural and regulatory proteins, which is why we employ a variety of methods, from the single molecule level to a whole organism, to gain insight into the inner workings of these remarkable machines. Using C. elegans as a model, we are particularly interested in the role forces play in the regulation of cell behavior and how cell-generated forces are deployed during cell migration, cell division, tubular tissue contraction, and embryonic morphogenesis. Another line of research in the lab seeks to capitalize on C. elegans genetics to generate models of human monogenetic diseases.

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We focus on distinct cellular structures that mediate cell adhesion and contractility. Cell-matrix and cell-cell junctions and the actomyosin cytoskeleton are responsible for the dynamic control of cell and tissue shape during development and homeostasis and their mis-regulation is associated with various diseases.

Research overview

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The decreasing cost of whole genome sequencing and the push toward personalized medicine is driving an exponential growth in the number of human patients who have their genomes sequenced. As a result, more than 80 million variations in the genome, including single nucleotide polymorphisms, insertions, deletions, and other structural variants have been identified. 

Modeling of human disease in C. elegans

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The actomyosin network is essential for cellular functions such as migration and adhesion, where force generation and sensing are important properties. Parallel actomyosin stress fibers crosslinked by a-actinin can additionally be crosslinked by highly structured arrays of myosin, called myosin stacks, that form when myosin regions in neighboring stress fibers align with each other [Hu et al., 2017]. 

Actomyosin cytoskeleton in fibroblasts

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Contractile tubes are a hallmark of many important animal organs, such as blood and lymphatic vessels, lung airways, mammary and salivary glands, and urinal and reproductive tracts. In larger tubular tissues, contractility is afforded by smooth muscle cells surrounding epithelial cells, and in smaller tubes the epithelial or endothelial cells themselves are contractile. 

Regulation of actomyosin contractility

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Embryogenesis comprises of serial, and on occasion simultaneous, occurrence of highly coordinated and regulated processes that lead to the formation of an organism. These processes are fairly conserved in all animal embryos. During embryogenesis, morphogenetic changes take place to bring about the formation of tissues from an initial mass of cells. 

Cytoskeleton dynamics in embryogenesis

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Cell migration is a critical developmental and physiological phenomenon for embryogenesis, wound healing, tissue repair and remodeling. Cells travel long or short distances to reach their final destination e.g. during embryogenesis cells of different lineages migrate in time and space to form specific tissues or organs at a predetermined location. 

3D cell migration

Dr. Anat Nitzan

Lab Manager

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Prof. Ronen Zaidel-Bar

Principal investigator

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Dr. Priti Agarwal

Post-Doc

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Hanna Grobe

PhD Student

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Shiri Avivi Kela

PhD Student

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Cátia Carvalho

PhD Student

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Shinjini Ray

PhD Student

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Meghna Suhag

PhD Student

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Liran Avda

Research Assistant

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