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Unraveling the mechanisms of synapse formation and axon regeneration: the awesome power of C. elegans genetics.


Since Caenorhabditis elegans was chosen as a model organism by Sydney Brenner in 1960's, genetic studies in this organism have been instrumental in discovering the function of genes and in deciphering molecular signaling network. The small size of the organism and the simple nervous system enable the complete reconstruction of the first connectome. The stereotypic developmental program and the anatomical reproducibility of synaptic connections provide a blueprint to dissect the mechanisms underlying synapse formation. Recent technological innovation using laser surgery of single axons and in vivo imaging has also made C. elegans a new model for axon regeneration. Importantly, genes regulating synaptogenesis and axon regeneration are highly conserved in function across animal phyla. This mini-review will summarize the main approaches and the key findings in understanding the mechanisms underlying the development and maintenance of the nervous system. The impact of such findings underscores the awesome power of C. elegans genetics.

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