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Research Group of Paola Bovolenta - Lab 426

The research interest of our group is aimed at defining the molecular mechanisms that control the early development of the vertebrate nervous system. Our main objectives are: (1) understanding the molecular mechanisms that allow the progressive specification of a common progenitor cell into different cell types and (2) studying how some of these mechanisms are reused at later stages of development to establish proper connections among neurons. We believe that the vertebrate eye is one of the most fascinating systems to address these questions since its main components (the neural retina, the pigmented epithelium and the optic nerve) have very different morphological and functional properties, in spite of their common origin from a single primordium, the optic vesicle.

Our experimental approach is multidisciplinary and involves the use of several techniques (biochemistry, cell and molecular biology, experimental embryology, transgenesis, gain-or loss-of function studies) applied to different model organisms: mouse, chick and teleost fishes. Specifically, we are studying the transcriptional network that control optic vesicle specification, analysing the promoters of three crucial transcription factors (Six3, Six6 and Otx2) and searching for the their down-stream target genes. We are also investigating the contribution of SFRP1, BMP7, SHH and FGF, secreted molecules that activate different signalling pathways, to optic vesicle morphogenesis and retina neurogenesis, including their role in the control of retina ganglion cell growth cone movements.

Besides expanding our knowledge in development neurobiology, understanding eye development has the potential added value of pinpointing to the causes of specific ocular pathologies, most notably congenital eye malformation and neurodegenerative diseases. In this respect, we are interested in understanding the molecular basis of congenital retinal dystrophies (RD), a collection of very frequent neurodegenerative diseases with a heterogeneous genetic origin that lead to a progressive loss of visual acuity, culminating in blindness. RD are characterised by photoreceptor cell death, a process that begins in a restricted group of cells and thereafter extends to the entire retina. We are testing the hypothesis that this behaviour may be caused by the activity of signalling pathways that, independently of the genetic origin of the disease, contribute to cell death spreading. The analysis of the components of these possible pathways may lead to the identification of compounds capable of interfering with the propagation of retina degeneration.

Group Leader

Paola Bovolenta
[more information]


Universidad Autonoma de Madrid

Consejo Superior Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC)
Centro de Biología Molecular Severo Ochoa (CBMSO)

c/Nicolas Cabrera 1
Campus de la Universidad Autonoma de Madrid

28049 Madrid

Phone: + 34 91 196 4718
Fax: + 34 91 1964420



  • Multidisciplinary approaches involving biochemistry,
  • cell and molecular biology,
  • experimental embryology,
  • transgenesis,
  • gain-or loss-of function studies.

Scientific Cooperations

  • Sandro Banfi, TIGEM, Naples Italy
  • Akihiko Shimono, Cancer Science Institute of Singapore
  • Isabel Guerrero, CBMSO, CSIC Madrid
  • Santiago Rodriguez de Cordoba, CIB, CSIC Madrid
  • Miguel Torres, CNIC, ISCIII, Madrid

Current Research Projects

  • Project 1:
    Sfrp1, a candidate molecule to prevent retinal degeneration
  • Project 2:
    To identify the genetic networks in which Six genes operate during visual system specification, with the aim of identifying new factor involved in MAC
  • Project 3:
    To explore the implication and mechanism action of Sfrp proteins in visual structures’ assembly
  • Project 4:
    To investigate the implication of Shh signalling in the establishment of retino-tectal connectivity, exploring the underlying mechanisms of action

Research Groups