- M.S. 1983 University of Cologne, Germany
- Ph.D. 1988 University of Cologne, Germany
- 1988-1992 Postdoc, Yale University, New Haven, CT
The goal of our research is to understand the mechanisms by which maternal disease
and nutrition during pregnancy affects development of the embryo. Diabetes and obesity
in the mother are associated with greater risk for birth defects in the offspring,
in particular heart defects and neural tube defects. This indicates that the embryo
is exquisitely sensitive to perturbations in the uterine environment, as manifested
in perturbed gene regulation and abnormal growth.
Distressed pregnancies also appear to 'program' exposed individuals for heath problems later in adult life. Recent evidence from our laboratory has identified several processes in pregnancies with adverse nutritional and metabolic exposures: 1) We identified altered cell differentiation and gene expression in the placenta as a possible mediator in altered nutrient transport; altered nutrient transport is also a major risk factor for birth defects even before the placenta is formed, and we are currently studying the underlying cellular abnormalities. 2) In the embryo proper, we identified impaired cell migration during gastrulation, when the precursors of major organ systems are formed, as a unifying explanation for birth defects in diabetic pregnancies. We are currently characterizing molecular causes for impaired migration at the single-cell level. 3) We are also investigating embryonic gene expression to identify the earliest responses to altered nutrition, with a focus on pathways that interfere with proper closure of the neural tube. 4)Ongoing studies on diet composition and vitamin supplementation have the aim to understand how beneficial factors may be used in birth defects and disease prevention through optimized nutrition.
The research program has a second focus on fundamental mechanisms in patterning of the embryonic body plan, in particular in the axial skeleton.
The laboratory uses a wide variety of approaches, including imaging, histological techniques, molecular biology, bioinformatics, and mouse genetics and genomics.
Department: Developmental Biology
To be added