Neurobiology and Development

Molecular Biology of Neural Development

Under the direction of Frédéric Charron

Research Unit

The brain is composed of billions of neurons that form a complex network. Inappropriate wiring of these neuronal connections has serious consequences for the sensory, motor and cognitive functions of the nervous system. Frédéric Charron’s research focuses on neural development and associated pathologies. He is a leader in Sonic hedgehog (Shh) signaling, having identified an axon pathfinding role for Shh and characterized a novel, non-canonical Shh signaling pathway. He has also characterized novel Shh receptors, a discovery that has fundamental implications for many pathologies, such as pediatric brain tumors.

During embryonic development, neurons extend axons, which are guided to their target via attractive and repulsive guidance molecules. We have demonstrated that Shh acts as a chemoattractive molecule for the axons of certain neurons in the spinal cord. One of the laboratory's objectives is to identify and characterize the components of the Shh signalling pathway in axonal guidance. In addition to helping understand the immense complexity underlying the wiring of the nervous system, this work will help to identify novel strategies to promote the proper guidance and rewiring of axons damaged by neurodegenerative diseases and brain or spinal cord injuries. 

Shh is a multi-functional protein and, in addition to guiding axons, it is also a morphogen which stimulates the proliferation of granule cell precursors in the cerebellum. Abnormal regulation of Shh signaling in the cerebellum leads to medulloblastoma, a pediatric cancer of the brain that is the most common solid tumor in children. The research unit focuses on understanding how medulloblastoma forms, in particular which genes may promote or inhibit medulloblastoma tumorigenesis. This work may lead to the development of novel and more effective targeted therapies to treat medulloblastoma, and improve the survival and quality of life of affected patients.

Frédéric Charron

Research Unit Director

  • Director, Molecular Biology of Neural Development Research Unit, IRCM
  • Full IRCM Research Professor 
  • Full Research Professor, Department of Medicine (accreditation in molecular biology), Université de Montréal
  • Adjunct Professor, Department of Medicine (Division of Experimental Medicine), Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology, McGill University  
  • Canada Research Chair (Tier 1) in Developmental Neurobiology

Other affiliations

  • Faculty Member, Neurodevelopment Section, Faculty of 1000 Prime
  • Member, McGill Integrated Program in Neuroscience, McGill University
  • Member, Montreal Regional Brain Tumor Research Group, Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University
  • Member, Centre of Excellence in Neuroscience of Université de Montréal 

Awards and honours

  • 2017 Marcel-Piché Award, IRCM
  • 2016 Member, College of the Royal Society of Canada
  • 2013 André-Dupont Award, Club de recherches cliniques du Québec
  • 2012 Young Investigator Award, Canadian Association for Neuroscience
  • 2011-2012 PhD Professor and Researcher of the year, Department of Medicine, Université de Montréal
  • 2010 Pierre-Bois Excellence Award, IRCM Foundation
  • 2005 Peter-Lougheed-CIHR New Investigator Award

Degrees and relevant experience

  • B.Sc. in biochemistry, Department of Biochemistry, Université de Montréal 
  • PhD in experimental medicine, Department of Medicine, McGill University 
  • Postdoctoral fellowship, Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, California, USA
  • Beckman Senior Research Fellow, Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, California, USA
Frédéric Charron
Research Unit Director
Nursen Balekoglu
PhD student
Sara Calabretta
Postdoctoral Fellow
François Depault
Research Assistant
Julien Ferent
Postdoctoral fellow
Heather Keightly
M.Sc. student
Jean-François Michaud
Research Assistant
Sushmetha Mohan
PhD Student
Frédéric Racicot
M.Sc. Student
Sabrina Schlienger
Postdoctoral fellow
Lukas Tamayo-Orrego
PhD student
Chia-Lun Wu
Postdoctoral fellow
Patricia Yam
Research Associate
Kaiyue Zhang
PhD Student
Mélanie Candido
Administrative Assistant

Ongoing projects


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Contact information

Montreal Clinical Research Institute (IRCM)
110, des Pins Avenue West
Montréal, Québec  H2W 1R7

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Neurobiology and Development