The overall goal of the neuromuscular junction (NMJ) group is to understand developmental process of NMJ and further recreate the NMJ that meets the stimulus-responsive actuation/movement of our various biological machines. In order to accomplish our goal, the NMJ group has been seeking to establish (1) a protocol for differentiation of pluripotent embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and neural progenitor cells to motor neuron cells, (2) a synthetic extracellular matrix that supports NMJ formation on muscle sheet, (3) a protocol for co-culture of motor neuron cells and myoblasts, (4) a microfluidic device that can control spatial organization of NMJ, and (5) a label-free imaging tool to analyze NMJ. The group also aim to understand emergent behavior underlying NMJ formation and function by interrogating the roles of spatial organization and direct interaction of motor neurons and skeletal myoblasts towards NMJ formation. Additionally, the group is identifying additional design parameters to improve the quality of NMJs through genetic modification of motor neuron cells with optically sensitive channelrhodopsin and computational modeling.
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