van Loon, Aaron

Aaron is in the Cell & Developmental Biology home area of the MBIDP.  He joined the CMB training program in 2015.  His research mentor is Dr. Alvaro Sagasti.  He received a B.S. degree in 2014 from Pepperdine University.

Mentor: Dr. Alvaro Sagasti

Research project:

Cytoskeletal-based membrane projections in epithelia are structurally and functionally diverse.  Examples of these structures include microvilli, flagella, and cilia.  Microridges and microplicae are uniquely elongated membrane projections that are present on many types of mucosal epithelia such as the mammalian cornea, alimentary tract, and oral epithelium.  Studying microridges will help us understand how cells build diverse architectures optimized for their function.  Specifically, microridges are thought to increase surface area to improve mucus retention.  Microridges are actin-based apical structures and have a web of keratin filaments at their base.  The outer layer of the zebrafish epidermis, a mucosal epithelium called the periderm, is a promising model for studying microridge formation.  I have found that microridge elongation is dependent on the branched-actin nucleation complex Arp2/3.  Currently, I am performing live imaging of microridges to observe and quantify their initial formation using zebrafish that express a fluorescently labelled actin binding peptide called LifeAct.  I am also investigating candidate genes that localize to microridges and, thus, may play important structural or functional roles in their formation.