Edinburgh Research Explorer

Dr Thomas Becker

Senior Lecturer

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Willingness to take PhD students: Yes

Education/Academic qualification

Doctor of Science, University of Bremen


Zebrafish have an amazing capacity for central nervous system (CNS) regeneration. They regain function after complete lesions of the spinal cord or the optic nerve. Such lesions in mammals are not repaired and functions are permanently lost.

How can zebrafish replace lost neurons from adult stem cells?

How are severed axonal connections repaired?

How are these processes related to developmental neurogenesis and axonal pathfinding?

To address these questions we are focusing on two important cell types, retinal ganglion cells, which convey all visual information form the eye to the brain, and spinal motor neurons, which control muscle contraction during swimming:

Retinal ganglion cell axons navigate to their targets guided by a variety of molecules. We have found that molecules of the extracellular matrix are essential for pathfinding of developing as well as regenerating axons to their termination areas in zebrafish. We are continuing to investigate which molecules are needed for correct guidance and termination of developing and regenerating retinal ganglion cells using a variety of techniques, such as gene knock down, mutant analysis and expression profiling.


Motor neurons are important target cells for axons descending from the brainstem that control swimming movements. We have shown that regeneration of descending axons is necessary for functional recovery after a spinal lesion and are now investigating the signals that lead to the (re-)generation of motor neurons. We have found that in embryonic motor neurons, transcriptional co-factors control expression of specific cell recognition molecules, such as plexins and neuropilins, which in turn are necessary for pathfinding of embryonic motor axons. We are now using small molecule screens and expression profiling on cDNA microarrays to discover new factors that are important for motor neuron differentiation, both during development and adult regeneration.

By analysing development and regeneration of important cell types in the zebrafish we hope to gain insight into fundamental developmental and regenerative mechanisms in the CNS, and to ultimately increase our understanding of human conditions, such as spinal cord injury and motor neuron disease.


2011- Lecturer/Programme Director MSc Integrative Neuroscience

2005- Senior Researcher, School of Biomedical Sciences,University of Edinburgh

2000-2005 Group Leader, Centre for Molecular Neurobiology Hamburg (ZMNH)

1998-2000 Postdoc, Centre for Molecular Neurobiology Hamburg (ZMNH)

1996-1998 Postdoc, Dept Dev Cell Biol, University of California, Irvine

1994-1996 Postdoc, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zürich

1993 PhD Neurobiology, University of Bremen 

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