My longstanding research interest has been the role of the extracellular matrix in nervous system development, especially the function of the heparan sulfate proteoglycan agrin. These studies are currently focusing on elucidating the mechanisms by which agrin modulates the function of heparin-binding growth factors and morphogens, such as fibroblast growth factors (Fgfs) and sonic hedgehog (Shh), during zebrafish nervous system development. The major emphasis of the laboratory is the investigation of the role of agrin in fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD), and whether agrin function via Fgfs and Shh is a target of embryonal ethanol exposure in zebrafish. These studies are employing genetic and molecular approaches to examine ocular, forebrain, and hindbrain development in response to ethanol exposure, and the subsequent changes in agrin, Fgf or Shh signaling. A future direction of the laboratory is to correlate these molecular changes, as a consequence of embryonic ethanol exposure, to behavioral changes in juvenile and adult zebrafish. This research is funded by an NIH U54 Cooperative Agreement grant between UNC-Chapel Hill and NCCU.