• Cook Lab Research

    Cell Type Specification During Eye Development

    Our lab is focused on understanding the molecular basis of normal eye development and how these processes are disrupted in disease states. Using the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster as a model, we combine cellular, molecular, biochemical, and genetic approaches to dissect transcriptional events underlying cell type specification of both the neural retina, which captures visual information and transmits this information to the brain, and the lens, which helps focus an image onto the retina.

    Our studies have revealed that many of the same factors involved in retinogenesis and lens formation in the fly are also necessary for vertebrate eye development. For instance, CRX is a transcription factor implicated in retinal degenerative diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP), Leber’s congenital amaurosis and cone-rod dystrophy, and is important for controlling a wide range of processes necessary for the differentiation of retinal cell types.  Therefore, our studies help address many basic developmental questions related to how different retinal cell types develop and should aid efforts to develop therapies against otherwise blinding human diseases.

    Similarly, our studies on fly lens development have provided some of the first evidence that lens development is conserved between vertebrate camera-like eyes and invertebrate compound eyes.  These functions in part involve a recently identified tumor suppressor, Prospero, important for neural stem cell development, so our work has important implications for diseases affecting lens function, such as cataracts, as well as for better understanding the role of Pros-related factors during neural development and cancer.

  • Color photoreceptor subtypes in the fly eye. Color photoreceptor subtypes in the fly eye
    Photoreceptor morphogenesis. Photoreceptor morphogenesis
    Corneal lens formation in the fly eye. Corneal lens formation in the fly eye
    Prospero is critical for lens formation. Prospero is critical for lens formation

  • Photoreceptor Subtype Specification

    Different retinal degenerative diseases affect distinct photoreceptor populations.  We are uncovering photoreceptor-specific pathways in the fly eye as a means to understand mechanisms underlying retinal degeneration.

    Read More About Color Photoreceptor Subtypes
  • Cell-Specific Gene Expression

    Opsins are required for visual input and to prevent retinal degeneration.  Using the regulatory sequences of opsins as a molecular tool, we have found several factors involved in retina development and function.

  • Molecular Control of Lens Development

    We are studying how signaling pathways and downstream target transcription factors coordinate processes necessary for lens formation.  These studies also have implications for processes related to cancer biology.

    Learn More About Corneal Lens Formation