First Person is a series of interviews with the first authors of a selection of papers published in Journal of Cell Science, helping early-career researchers promote themselves alongside their papers. Ioannis Kasioulis is first author on ‘ A lateral protrusion latticework connects neuroepithelial cells and is regulated during neurogenesis’, published in JCS. Ioannis conducted the research described in this article while a postdoc (Research Associate) in Prof. Kate G. Storey's lab at School of Life Sciences, University of Dundee, UK. He is now a Research Associate in the lab of Dr Alessandra Granata at University of Cambridge, UK, working to uncover the molecular mechanisms of large vessel disease.
How would you explain the main findings of your paper in lay terms?
Through observations in the past, from many other researchers, it has been shown that cells can communicate with each other using their outer membranes. This can be imagined as ‘dynamically protruding and retracting their hands and feeling each other’. In this paper, we found that during development of the central nervous system, the cells within the neuroepithelium (some of which will become neurons in the future) displayed a similar behaviour. Remarkably, membrane protrusions extended and contacted cells beyond their next-door neighbours. These findings show that even cells in a tightly packed tissue dynamically contact non-neighbouring cells and suggest that this may help to mediate cell–cell signalling across this and other tissues.
Were there any specific challenges associated with this project? If so, how did you overcome them?
This project required imaging and quantification of cell membrane dynamics from chicken embryo explants. The procedure required manual handling; from electroporation of the neural tube to later choosing the best explants, embedding and successfully imaging them. To manage this, and to ensure that I had enough cells for my quantifications, I repeated each experiment a number of times, live-imaging almost daily. I then spend quite some time finding the best way to quantify my live-imaging data.
When doing the research, did you have a particular result or ‘eureka’ moment that has stuck with you?
It was one of the first experiments that I performed where I observed the intricate membrane dynamics of the protrusions. I never expected such behaviour from cells in such a tightly packed tissue that is required to develop in a timely fashion. The reason I performed those first experiments was initially completely different but it has paid off in the end!
Why did you choose Journal of Cell Science for your paper?
It is the journal where, during this project, I read publications from other researchers describing membrane protrusions in other contexts. Thus, such publications were very informative and helped me to design a number of experiments. I am confident that this publication, through Journal of Cell Science, will reach a wide audience of researchers interested in a similar topic.
Have you had any significant mentors who have helped you beyond supervision in the lab? How was their guidance special?
I would not say mentors per se, but more as other lab members with whom I had frequent constructive discussions about my project during lab meetings, when buying some coffee or grabbing some lunch together! Such discussions really helped with shaping my decision making on future experiments. I cannot help but always be grateful for the time they dedicated and their willingness to listen. I think this should happen more often in the scientific community – giving to others beyond our own self interests.
What motivated you to pursue a career in science, and what have been the most interesting moments on the path that led you to where you are now?
Interesting story; it was during school when I became fascinated with Greg Mendel's laws of heredity and decided to undertake Biological Sciences as my undergraduate degree. I immediately followed this with my PhD studies, which then propelled me into a career in academic research.
What's next for you?
I am currently in my second postdoc position at the University of Cambridge. I hope to secure funding and undertake more research in the fascinating field of cerebrovascular disease.
Ioannis Kasioulis's contact details: Department of Clinical Neurosciences, University of Cambridge, Clifford Allbutt Building, Hills Road, Cambridge, CB2 0AH, UK.