PiN Faculty Member - Maxwell Heiman, PhD

Maxwell Heiman, PhD

Assistant Professor of Genetics

Boston Children's Hospital
Center for Life Science, Room 14-047
3 Blackfan Circle
Boston, MA 02115
Tel: 617-444-9629
Visit my lab page here.

We use forward genetic screens and high-resolution imaging to learn how the nervous system puts itself together. Remarkably, in C. elegans, a given neuron or glial cell arises from the same lineage, adopts the same morphology, and makes the same cell-cell contacts in every individual. This stereotypy makes it a powerful system for asking how fate, shape, and connectivity are determined in the nervous system.

1. Glial identity and sex differences
In mammals, the diversity of glial subtypes are just coming into view; in C. elegans, the situation is more clear cut. We have transcriptional reporters that allow us to fluorescently label defined glial subtypes. Using these, we identified mutants that alter glial fate – in one case, transforming one glial subtype to another. We have also identified all-or-none sex differences in certain glia; interestingly, these sex-different glia associate with neurons involved in mating, suggesting that glial sex differences might affect sex-specific behaviors.

2. Glia-neuron attachment
How does a neuron pair off with the right glial partner? We developed super-resolution imaging approaches to visualize a remarkable class of dendrite-glia attachments that had only been seen previously by EM. We used genetic screens to identify factors that act in the glial cell, or in a mystery cell, to promote this attachment. One of the most remarkable aspects of this structure is that, although the dendrite has many glia to choose from, it always pairs off with the same partner. We are trying to understand how this specificity is achieved.

3. Morphogenesis of neurons and glia
Some sensory neurons are exposed to the environment and exhibit properties of epithelia, including apical-basal polarity. We created synthetic minimal constructs that label apical and basolateral membranes, allowing us to screen for mutants that affect apical-basal polarity separate from axon-dendrite polarity. These neurons and glia develop as a polarized rosette, and we hypothesize that neurons that associate stably with the rosette become sensory neurons while those that withdraw from the rosette lose their epithelial properties and become interneurons.

Last Update: 9/16/2020


For a complete listing of publications click here.



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