Photo of Nikolas Nikolaou
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Personal profile

Research interests

We are interested in elucidating the fundamental molecular and cellular mechanisms that drive neural circuit formation during developmental periods and how these connections are maintained during life.


Neural circuit function and ultimately animal behavior depend on the precise formation of synaptic connections in the brain. Deviations in the way neurons connect with one another can lead to neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. A fundamental question in neuroscience is to understand the basic principles undepinning neuronal connectivity.


Neuronal connectivity in the zebrafish visual system

To better understand the mechanisms involved in the establishment and maintenance of neuronal connections, our lab uses the zebrafish visual system as a model. More than 20 morphological and functional subtypes of retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), the sole output neurons of the retina, send their axons across the midline to innervate ten diencephalic and mesencephalic arbourisation fields in the contralateral side of the brain, of which the optic tectum is the largest. Recent studies have shed light into the mechanisms that guide RGC axons to innervate a single lamina in the neuropil of the optic tectum where they establish layered- and subtype-specific connections with the dendrites of tectal neurons, their post-synaptic partners. However, the molecular logic by which neuronal diversity and connectivity is achieved is still poorly understood. Some of the questions we are trying to address are:

  1. What is the molecular identity of each RGC subtype and how these features make them unique in terms of arbourisation patterns, connectivity and function?
  2. What are the molecular signals that promote targeting of RGC suptypes in some arbourisation fields but not in others?
  3. How cell-type specific connections are established within the retinorecipient layers of the optic tectum?
  4. What is the contribution of each RGC subtype in the behavioural attributes generated by the visual centres of the brain? 

We are trying to address these and other similar questions using a range of approaches including single cell transcriptional profiling, CRISPR/cas9 and transgenesis techniques, together with structural and functional imaging techniques to access neuronal cell behaviour and function.  


RNA metabolism during establishment and maintenance of neural connections

Another area of focus in our lab is RNA metabolism during brain development and function. RNA processing plays a major role in circuit development and is carried out by an army of RNA-binding proteins (RBPs). In recent years much progress has been made in identifying the players and their roles in these processes revealing a daunting complexity in the mechanisms of RNA metabolism and transport. Significantly, human genetic studies have indicated that RNA mis-regulation resulting from defects in RBP expression, localization and function are linked to numerous diseases such as neurodegeneration (e.g. spinal muscular atrophy, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) and neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g. autism, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder). Splicing proteins consist a major class of RBPs and they drive constant and alternative splicing of pre-mRNAs, processes known to take place in the nucleus of all eukaryotic cells. There is an increasing amount of evidence indicating the presence of spliceosomal proteins in neurites, however, the cytoplasmic roles in neurites of are not yet understood. Key questions we are currently addressing are:

  1. What are the non-nuclear functions of splicing factors during development and maintenance of neural connections?
  2. What are the immediate transcriptomic changes associated with the non-nuclear function of splicing proteins in neurons?
  3. With what other proteins do splicing factors interact with in neurites?


Willing to supervise PhD

We are always open to students interested in neuronal development. PhD funded projects in the lab will appear here when become available. Postdocs interested in joining our lab are also wellcomed and adviced to contact me directly well in advance.

Education/Academic qualification

Anatomy and Developmental Biology, Doctor of Philosophy, University College London


Biology, Bachelor of Science, University of Crete


External positions

Postdoctoral Research Associate, King's College London



  • Neurobiology
  • RNA metabolism
  • Zebrafish
  • Neural circuits
  • Axonal growth
  • Synapse formation

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Research Output

Lamination Speeds the Functional Development of Visual Circuits

Nikolaou, N. & Meyer, M. P., 2 Dec 2015, In : Neuron. 88, 5, p. 999-1013 15 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access
15 Citations (Scopus)

Neurobiology: Imaging Prey Capture Circuits in Zebrafish

Nikolaou, N. & Meyer, M. P., 30 Mar 2015, In : Current Biology . 25, 7, p. R273-R275

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

Open Access
1 Citation (Scopus)

A systems-based dissection of retinal inputs to the zebrafish tectum reveals different rules for different functional classes during development

Lowe, A. S., Nikolaou, N., Hunter, P. R., Thompson, I. D. & Meyer, M. P., 28 Aug 2013, In : Journal of Neuroscience. 33, 35, p. 13946-13956

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access
25 Citations (Scopus)

Teneurin-3 Specifies Morphological and Functional Connectivity of Retinal Ganglion Cells in the Vertebrate Visual System

Antinucci, P., Nikolaou, N., Meyer, M. P. & Hindges, R., 14 Nov 2013, In : Cell Reports. 5, 3, p. 582-592

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Open Access
43 Citations (Scopus)

Imaging Circuit Formation in Zebrafish

Nikolaou, N. & Meyer, M. P., 31 Mar 2012, In : Developmental Neurobiology. 72, 3, p. 346-357

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

10 Citations (Scopus)