Research in the Kuruvilla laboratory is focused on understanding the development and functions of the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system, a branch of the autonomic nervous system, is critical for organ homeostasis. Sympathetic axons innervate diverse peripheral organs and tissues to govern fundamental physiological processes including cardiac output, body temperature, regulation of blood glucose levels, and immune functions. A dysfunctional sympathetic nervous system has been associated with several prevalent disorders including congestive heart failure, hypertension, diabetes, immune dysfunction and epithelial cancers. Notably, an emergent concept is that early deficits in the sympathetic nervous system, likely acquired during development, contribute to the etiology of some of these diseases. Our laboratory investigates the development and functions of sympathetic neurons using mouse genetics, cell biological approaches, imaging, and physiological analyses.
There are two major research directions in our laboratory that focus on reciprocal interactions between sympathetic neurons and their target organs/tissues: (1) To define how sympathetic neuron connectivity is established and refined by the actions of neurotrophic signals secreted from target tissues, and (2) To elucidate how sympathetic nerves instruct target tissue development and function, focusing in particular, on the islets of Langerhans in the pancreas.