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Andrea Brand

brandAndrea Brand PhD FRS FMedSci, Herchel Smith Professor of Molecular Biology, Royal Society Darwin Trust Research Professor, Member of the Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience.

 Europe PMC | Pubmed

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Stem cells to synapses: regulation of self-renewal and differentiation in the nervous system

2016 BrandDiscovering how stem cells are maintained in a multipotent state and how their progeny differentiate into distinct cellular fates is a key step in the therapeutic use of stem cells to repair tissues after damage or disease.

We are investigating the genetic networks that regulate neural stem cell behaviour. Neural stem cells in the adult brain exist primarily in a quiescent state but can be reactivated in response to changing physiological conditions. How do stem cells sense and respond to metabolic changes? In the Drosophila central nervous system, quiescent neural stem cells are reactivated synchronously in response to a nutritional stimulus. We showed that feeding triggers insulin production by blood-brain barrier glial cells, activating the insulin/IGF pathway in underlying neural stem cells and stimulating their growth and proliferation. More recently, we discovered that gap junctions in the blood-brain barrier glia mediate the influence of metabolic changes on stem cell behaviour, enabling glia to respond to nutritional signals and reactivate quiescent stem cells. 

The ability to reprogram differentiated cells into a pluripotent state has revealed that the differentiated state is plastic and reversible. Mechanisms must be in place to prevent neurons from dedifferentiating to a multipotent, stem-cell-like state. We discovered that the BTB-Zn finger transcription factor, Lola, is required to maintain neurons in a differentiated state. In lola mutants, neurons dedifferentiate, turn on neural stem cell genes and begin to divide, forming tumours. Thus, neurons rather than stem cells or intermediate progenitors are the tumour-initiating cells in lola mutants. 

Cell-type specific transcriptional profiling is key to understanding cell fate specification and function. We developed ‘Targeted DamID’ (TaDa) to enable cell-specific profiling without cell isolation. TaDa permits genome-wide profiling of DNA- or chromatin-binding proteins without cell sorting, fixation or affinity purification.

Selected publications:

• Cattenoz PB, Popkova A, Southall TD, Aiello G, Brand AH, Giangrande A. (2016) Functional Conservation of the Glide/Gcm Regulatory Network Controlling Glia, Hemocyte, and Tendon Cell Differentiation in Drosophila. Genetics 202(1):191-219.

• Marshall OJ and Brand AH (2015) damidseq_pipeline: an automated pipeline for processing DamID sequencing datasets. Bioinformatics 31(20):3371-3.

• Spéder P, Brand AH. (2014) Gap junction proteins in the blood-brain barrier control nutrient-dependent reactivation of Drosophila neural stem cells. Developmental Cell 30(3):309-21. 

• Southall TD, Davidson CM, Miller C, Carr A and Brand AH (2014) Dedifferentiation of neurons precedes tumor formation in lola mutantsDevelopmental Cell 10.1016/j.devcel.2014.01.030

• Southall TD, Gold KS, Egger B, Davidson CM, Caygill EE, Marshall OJ and Brand AH (2013) Cell type-specific profiling of gene expression and chromatin binding without cell isolation: Assaying RNA Pol II occupancy in neural stem cells. Developmental Cell 26, 101-112

• Cheetham SW and Brand AH (2013) Insulin finds its niche. Science 340, 817-818

• Chell JM and Brand AH (2010) Nutrition-responsive glia control exit of neural stem cells from quiescence. Cell 143(7), 1161-1173


Video: Meet Andrea Brand

Plain English

One of the goals of research in neurobiology is to repair or regenerate neurons after damage to the brain or spinal cord. Before we can understand how to repair the nervous system, however, we must first learn how the nervous system is put together. Of all the tissues and organs in the human body the nervous system is the most intricate and complex, consisting of more than 1012 neurons. These neurons make precise connections with each other to form functional networks that can transmit information at amazing speed over considerable distances.

Neurons are produced by multipotent precursors called stem cells. Neural stem cells divide in a self-renewing manner, generating daughter cells that give rise to different types of neurons. The aim of our work is to identify the genes that direct the different behaviours of cells in the developing nervous system. When we identify the genes that specify the characteristic behaviours of each of the different cell types in the nervous system, it may become possible to manipulate them in such a way as to induce stem cells to become neurons at will, or induce neurons to regenerate.


Neha Agrawal • Benjamin Badger • Seth Cheetham • Catherine Davidson • Anna Hakes • Robert Krautz • Stephanie Norwood • Leo Otsuki • Takumi Suzuki • Christine Turner  • Jelle van den Ameele  • Mo Zhao