Shelly Tzill and her team seek to understand the molecular origin of neuron mechanosensing – the ability of neuronal cells to sense and respond to the mechanical properties of their environment. Two types of mechanosensing behaviors have been reported for neurons. First, the elasticity of the surrounding matrix was shown to guide and influence the rate of neurite growth. Second, sensory axons exhibit unprecedented rates of growth when subjected to continuous mechanical tension. The mechanism underlying this phenomenon is not understood, although it is thought to play a critical role in axonal growth in vivo for formation of the adult nervous system. In the group, we explore the role of mechanosensation in neuronal interactions, focusing on the molecular-physical nature of the mechanical coupling between neuronal cells and their environment. We explore the role of mechanical communication in nerve regeneration after injury and in spontaneous synchronized activity during the development of the nervous system.
The study of neuronal mechanosensing and mechanical communication requires an inter-disciplinary effort and as a result, the work in the lab ranges from high resolution optical microscopy to theoretical modeling and design of protein-engineered biomaterials.