Zebrafish heart explants undergoing intrinsic looping in cultureCongratulations to Emily Noël who has been awarded a 5-year British Heart Foundation Intermediate Basic Science Research Fellowship to study Congenital heart defects (CHD).

A few words from Emily: Congenital heart defects (CHD) are caused by improper morphogenesis of the heart during embyronic development. We know that specific interactions within the cytoskeleton of the heart are necessary for correct heart development, and that in recent years mutations in cytoskeletal components have been identified in CHD patients. However, we know very little about the mechanisms by which cytoskeletal regulators drive the cytoskeleton remodeling and cellular changes which lead to heart morphogenesis. We have used a state of the art technique, RNA tomography, to identify the cytoskeletal regulators that are expressed within specific regions of the heart during the early stages of heart morphogenesis. This Fellowship will allow us to define the functional role of these genes during heart development, linking regional changes in cytoskeletal remodelling with the tissue rearrangements that drive heart looping. To achieve this we have first selected candidate genes that are expressed within small groups of cells in the heart. We will use CRISPR-Cas9 mediated genome editing to delete these genes in zebrafish, and using high resolution imaging we will define the roles these genes play in actin remodeling, cellular interactions, and changes in cell shape. By comparing these processes during normal embryonic development and zebrafish knock-out models we will better define the role of the cytoskeleton in heart morphogenesis, and will provide insights into the origins of congenital heart defects.