Dr Rick Livesey
Human stem cell models of dementia
Rick Livesey is a Wellcome Trust Group Leader at the Gurdon Institute and a member of the Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge.
• Tatyana Dias • Steven Moore • Peter Kirwan • Natalie Saurat • Tomoki Otani • Teresa Krieger • Mac Hughes • James Smith • Amelia McGlade
Rick did his undergraduate and preclinical medical studies in Cork, Ireland before joining the MB/PhD programme at the University of Cambridge Clinical School. He did his PhD at the MRC LMB in Steve Hunt's group and post-doctoral work with Connie Cepko at the Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School. Rick started his group at the Gurdon Institute in September 2001.
In April 2013 Rick was the recipient of a Wellcome Trust Senior Investigator award.
Making a brain depends on producing all of the different types of nerve cells in the correct places and at the appropriate times before wiring those nerve cells together to make functional circuits. Growing human brain cells in a dish enables us to study them using techniques which are not possible to perform in vivo. Differentiating cortical nerve cells from induced pluripotent stem cells enables us to study patient-specific neurons for a range of conditions.
We study how neural stem and progenitor cells build the executive centre of the brain, the cortex. The cortex is the part of the front of the brain that mammals, including humans, use to perceive physical sensations, sound and vision and where thoughts are generated and movement initiated. The consequences of changes to important genes or of mis-wiring in the cortex are neurological diseases, disability, and neuro-degeneration; including epilepsy and autism, major learning disabilities and dementia.
An understanding of how the cortex is built normally is essential for understanding these disorders, as is our research into what causes the system to break down.
The cerebral cortex, which makes up three quarters of the human brain, is the part of the nervous system that integrates sensations, executes decisions and is responsible for cognition and perception. Given its functional importance, it is not surprising that diseases of the cerebral cortex are major causes of morbidity and mortality. Understanding the biology of cortical neural stem cells is essential for understanding human evolution, the pathogenesis of human neurodevelopmental disorders and the rational design of neural repair strategies in adults.
During embryonic development, all of the neurons in the cortex are generated from a population of multipotent stem and progenitor cells. Much of the research in the lab centres on the cell and molecular biology of cortical stem cells, using mouse as a model system. We are particularly interested in the molecular mechanisms controlling multipotency, self-renewal and neurogenesis, and how these are coordinated to generate complex lineages in a fixed temporal order.
A number of ongoing projects in the group address the functional importance of transcriptional and epigenetic mechanisms in this system, including microRNAs and the polycomb chromatin-modifying complexes. In the other major strand of research in the group, we have used our understanding of murine cortical stem cells to develop methods for directing differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells to cortical neurons, via a cortical stem cell stage.We are using this system for basic studies of human cortical neurogenesis and to generate models of cortical diseases, with an initial focus on Down syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease.
Plain EnglishMaking a brain depends on producing all of the different types of nerve cells in the correct places and at the appropriate times before wiring those nerve cells together to make functional circuits. We study how neural stem and progenitor cells build the executive centre of the mammalian brain, the neocortex. The neocortex is the part of the front of the brain that mammals, including humans, use to perceive physical sensations, sound and vision and where thoughts are generated and movement initiated. The consequences of mis-wiring in the cortex are neurological disease and disability, ranging from epilepsy to autism to major learning disabilities. An understanding of how stem and progenitor cells build the cortex is essential for understanding these neurodevelopmental disorders and also for the development of stem cell-based therapies for neurological repair. The cortex is a mammal-specific structure, so we also think that studying how genes are used to build the cortex will help us understand the evolution of uniquely human abilities, such as language.
• Livesey, F. J. (2014). Human stem cell models of dementia. Human Molecular Genetics. doi:10.1093/hmg/ddu302.
• Shi, Y., Kirwan, P., Smith, J., Robinson, H.P., and Livesey, F.J. (2012). Human cerebral cortex development from pluripotent stem cells to functional excitatory synapses. Nature Neuroscience 15, 477-486.
• Shi, Y., Kirwan, P., Smith, J., Maclean, G., Orkin, S.H., and Livesey, F.J. (2012). A human stem cell model of early Alzheimer's disease pathology in Down syndrome. Science Translational Medicine 4, 124ra129.
• Alsiö, J.M., Tarchini, B., Cayouette, M., and Livesey, F.J. (2013). Ikaros promotes early-born neuronal fates in the cerebral cortex. PNAS, 110: E716–E725.
• Shi, Y., Kirwan, P. and Livesey, F.J. (2012). Directed differentiation of human pluripotent stem cells to cerebral cortex neurons and neural networks. Nature Protocols, 7:1836-1846.