Kei Ito / Associate Professor / Division of Biosciences
Department of Computational Biology and Medical Sciences / / Molecular neuroanatomy, developmental neurobiology

Career Summary
1986: Graduated, Faculty of Science, The University of Tokyo
1991: PhD, from The University of Tokyo
1991: Guest scientist, University of Mainz, Germany
1994: Reseacher, JST ERATO
1998: Research Associate, National Institute for Basic Biology
2002: Associate Professor, The University of Tokyo
Educational Activities
Research Activities
The aim of our research group is to understand the basic rules by which elaborate neural circuits develop and function. Due to its relatively simple structure and to the powerful molecular and genetic techniques now available, the brain of the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, is a good model system for comprehensive investigation.
(1) Brain Structure
To label specific subsets of brain cells, we performed the largest-ever screening of over 4500 GAL4 enhancer-trap strains. Using these lines, we are systematically identifying neurons in order to trace the information pathways of various sensory modalities (visual, olfactory, gustatory, auditory, etc.) from the peripheral sensory cells to higher-order associative centers, to motor output centers.
(2) Brain Function
We analyzed the correlation between identified neural circuits and their function by observing the behavioral abnormalities caused by the cell-specific expression of the genes that disturb the function of the identified neurons and by imaging the intracellular calcium concentration of the labeled neurons.
(3) Brain Development
The development of the identified neural circuit is traced at various stages under normal conditions. The role of the genes relevant to neural path finding and of the surrounding glial cells are analyzed. We also made it possible to visualize in the adult brain, for the first time, the whole circuit structures made by the progeny of a single neural stem cell. The progeny form distinct lineage-dependent circuit modules. The mechanisms underlying the formation of such module structure is currently under investigation.
(4) Brain Bioinformatics
By developing a system that can simulate the function of the real brain rather than the simplified imaginary "neural network model", we are establishing a database that documents the anatomical properties of all the Drosophila brain neurons identified thus far.
1) Awasaki, T., Tatsumi, R., Takahashi, K., Arai, K., Nakanishi, Y., Ueda, R., and Ito, K. (2006) Essential role of the apoptotic cell engulfment genes draper and ced-6 in programmed axon pruning during Drosophila metamorphosis. Neuron (50) 855-867
2) Kamikouchi A, Shimada, T. and ITO, K. (2006) Comprehensive classification of the auditory sensory projections in the brain of the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. J. Comp. Neurol. (499) 317-356.
3) Otsuna, H. & Ito, K. (2006) Systematic analysis of the visual projection neurons of Drosophila melanogaster - I: Lobula-specific pathways. J. Comp. Neurol. (497) 928-958.
Other Activities
Society of Molecular Biology, Society of Developmental Biology, Society of Biophysics, Society of Neuroscience
Future Plan
As research in the lower sensory systems progresses, our analysis gradually shifts towards more complex, higher-order integrative and associative areas of the brain.
Messages to Students
“God is in the details”; i.e., novel findings that break with the conventional framework are often the results of patient observation of minor details. Students should pursue research that only they can perform, not something that any person can achieve.