Grace Boekhoff-Falk, PHD

Position title: Associate Professor, Cell & Regenerative Biology


Phone: 608-262-1609

Organ System/Disease Focus:
Nervous system/neurodegeneration
Aligned Research Focus:
Neural stem cell science and reactive glia
Grace Boekhoff-Falk headshot


More information:
Research Description:

For the past few years, we have been developing the adult Drosophila brain as a genetic model in which to study neural regeneration. The adult Drosophila brain, like our own brain, has very few proliferative cells. Nonetheless, we have discovered that cells in the adult Drosophila brain are capable of proliferation following injury, and that both new neurons and new glial cells are generated. Surprisingly, the new neurons can project axons and dendrites to appropriate target areas. Because known neural stem cells are eliminated prior to adulthood, our results suggest that brain cells can be de-differentiated, induced to proliferate, and give rise to new neurons and glia. This is important because one of the main barriers to therapeutic neural regeneration in humans is the absence of neural stem cells in most regions of the adult mammalian brain. Potential treatments for diseased and injured brains therefore have focused on transplantation of stem cells and their derivatives that are complicated by tumorigenicity and lack of consistent functional integration. Our work suggests it may be possible to use resident cells that are not stem cells for human brain regeneration. Our current focus is the identification of these non-canonical neural precursors and the signaling pathways that regulated their proliferation and differentiation.

Selected References:
  • Plavicki, J.S., J.M. Squirrel, K.W. Eliceiri, and G. Boekhoff-Falk (2016). Expression of the Drosophila homeobox gene, Distal-less, supports an ancestral role in neural development. Developmental Dynamics, 245: 87-95.
  • Plavicki, J., S. Mader, E. Pueschel, P. Peebles and G. Boekhoff-Falk (2012). The homeobox gene distal-less/Dlx is required for neuronal differentiation and neurite outgrowth in the Drosophila olfactory system. PNAS 109:1578-1583.
  • Ebacher, D.J.S., S.V. Todi, D.F. Eberl and G. Boekhoff-Falk (2007). cut mutant Drosophila auditory organs differentiate abnormally and degenerate. Fly 1:86-94.
  • Zhao, G., G. Boekhoff-Falk, B.A. Wilson, and J. B. Skeath (2007). Linking pattern formation to cell-type specification: Dichaete and Ind directly repress achaete gene expression in the Drosophila CNS. PNAS 104:3847-3852.