Vrije Universiteit Brussel
Room 7F430B
Pleinlaan 2
1050 Brussels | Belgium


Embryonic stem (ES) cells are pluripotent, which means these cells have the capacity to differentiate into every cell type of the adult body. One of the challenges in developmental biology is to understand how neural induction occurs and how the neural tissue is patterned along the antero‐posterior (A/P) body axis.

In this specific PhD we intend to identify the signalling pathways of the newly formed neuroectoderm, focusing on the diencephalon region of the forebrain, and how this is patterned, by the zona limitans intrathalamica (ZLI), to form the various A/P and D/V cell fates and to characterize novel cell surface markers of different cell populations during this process.

Several studies in chick, zebra fish and Xenopus embryos have demonstrated that ZLI is established at the interface of mutually repressive gene pairs. In all these studies the expression of the Iroquois (Irx) homeobox genes is conserved in the caudal forebrain and seems to be commonly required to set the posterior limit of the ZLI. Despite these findings, little is known about the ZLI specification in the mouse, probably due to the functional redundancy of the Irx genes and compensatory mechanisms, which are solely observed in mouse.

In the first part of the project we aim to investigate the role of the Irx genes 1 and 3 in positioning ZLI in the mouse diencephalon. A second part is to target Irx1 and Irx3 with RNA – guided Cas9. 

N. Vanbekbergen, M. Hendrickx, L. Leyns (2014). Growth differentiation Factor 11 is an encephalic regionalizing factor in neural differentiated mouse embryonic stem cells. BMC Res Notes, 7:766. doi: 10.1186/1756-0500-7-766.

Dakou E, Vanbekbergen N, Corradi S, Kemp CR, Willems E, Leyns L. (2014). Whole-mount in situ hybridization (WISH) optimized for gene expression analysis in mouse embryos and embryoid bodies. Methods Mol Biol. 1211:27-40. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-1459-3_3.