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Projects. Life and Matter Sciences

Epigenetic study in vivo of the role of retinoic acid in the regeneration of ciliate cells

Lead Researcher:
Berta Alsina Español

Research Centre:
Universidad Pompeu Fabra-PRBB. Barcelona.


Berta Alsina EspañolCiliate cells are the mechanical receptor cells which receive and transmit acoustic stimuli. One of the most common sensory deficits in the population of industrialised countries is progressive hearing loss caused by acoustic damage or certain drugs, together with the impossibility of regenerating ciliate cells in mammals. This project has the aim of investigating the role of retinoic acid in the regeneration of the inner ear and the lateral line of the vertebrate zebra fish, for future use as a therapy in mammals. Functional experiments involving the manipulation of retinoic acid and FGF signalling routes are being combined with the in vivo visualisation of cellular regeneration and proliferation to understand the effect of retinoic acid on the regeneration of ciliated cells. To date it has been possible to prove that the synthesis of retinoic acid is activated in the support cells (those functioning as stem cells) under regeneration conditions. When regeneration is induced in ciliate cells by means of cellular ablation or orthotoxic harm, the blocking of retinoic acid signalling or of RAR receptors was found to suppress the de novo generation of ciliate cells, while the proliferation of support cells is inhibited. It has been possible to prove in vivo and in intact animals that new ciliate cells come from the support cells. Analysis of the epigenetic modifications in the chromatin under regeneration conditions using ChIP-seq is now commencing.

Scientific production
4 papers at international conferences

Researcher's web address:

Berta Alsina Español

She holds an honours degree in Science from the Autonomous University, Barcelona (1989-1994), and wrote her doctoral thesis in the Genetics Department of the University of Barcelona (1995-1999). During her first postdoctoral stay at UCLA (the laboratory of Dr. Cohen-Cory, 1999-2001) she analysed the role of synaptogenesis in Xenopus, and her work was published in Nature Neuroscience. She then joined the Developmental Biology laboratory in the Pompeu Fabra University, directed by Dr. Giráldez, to study the development of the ear. In 2003 she obtained a Ramón y Cajal contract (2003-2008), and is currently Tenured Professor in Pompeu Fabra University. As Principal Investigator, she is the author of widely cited papers and is the Principal Investigator of several projects, the editor of PLoS ONE, director of three theses, the organiser of several international conferences and a speaker at congresses on her speciality. The lines of research she directs centre on the study of the molecular mechanisms involved in the control of the formation of different neurosensory lineages based on their otic progenitors. In the laboratory basic questions of developmental biology are studied, such as the temporal and spatial control of cell differentiation, cell signalling, the regeneration of ciliated cells and the genomic control of activation of genes by means of epigenetic changes and cis-regulatory elements.

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