Claude Desplan, NYU

Claude Desplan, NYU

Butler Seminar Series

Event Date/Location

November 21, 2022 - 12:00 pm
Thomas Laboratory 003


  • Claude Desplan Photo

    Claude Desplan

    Silver Professor; Professor of Biology and Neural Science

    Claude Desplan is a Silver Professor of Biology and Neuroscience at NYU. He was born in Algeria and was trained at Ecole Normale Supérieure St. Cloud, France.  He received his DSc at INSERM in Paris in 1983 and joined Pat O’Farrell at UCSF as a postdoc. There, he demonstrated that the homeodomain, a conserved signature of many developmental genes, is a DNA binding motif.  In 1987, he joined Rockefeller University as an HHMI Assistant/Associate Investigator to pursue structural studies of the homeodomain and the evolution of axis formation.

    In 1999, Dr. Desplan joined NYU where he investigates the generation of neural diversity using the Drosophila visual system. He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences and an elected member of the EMBO.


The generation of neuronal diversity

In the Drosophila optic lobes, ~200 types of neurons organized as 800 columns process the inputs from 800 unit-eyes. We study how this variety of neurons is generated during development and how connectivity among these neurons is regulated

            The ~800 Neural stem cells in the medulla sequentially express a series of temporal transcription factors (tTFs), producing in each temporal window different neurons that innervate each of the 800 columns. At each division, the neural stem cell produces an intermediate precursor that divides once, producing a NotchON and a NotchOFF neuron.

            We used single-cell mRNA sequencing to identify the complete series of tTFs that specify most optic lobe neurons from birth to adulthood. Each tTF regulates the progression of the series by activating the next tTF and repressing the previous one. This allowed us to establish the temporal window of origin and birth order of each neuronal type in the medulla. These tTFs are sufficient to explain the generation of the entire neuronal diversity in this brain region by integrating temporal and spatial patterning as well as their Notch status.

            This allowed us to discover that the 200 distinct neurons in the Drosophila visual system can be defined by unique combinations of ~10 ‘selector’ TFs that are continuously expressed in each neuron from birth to adulthood. Targeted modifications of this ‘selector’ code induce predictable conversions of cell fates between neurons that appear to be morphologically and transcriptionally complete. Using single nuclei ATAC-seq data (Aerts lab), we showed that Cis-regulatory sequences link this ‘selector’ program to the upstream tTFs that specify neuronal fates. This provides a generalizable framework of how specific fates are initiated and maintained in postmitotic neurons.


Free and open to the university community and the public.


Ricardo Mallarino, Department of Molecular Biology