Professor Alicia Hidalgo

Professor Alicia Hidalgo

School of Biosciences
Professor of Neurogenetics

Contact details

630, School of Biosciences
The University of Birmingham
B15 2TT
Alicia Hidalgo - Research in 60 seconds video

Our lab aims to understand structural plasticity of the nervous system: in development, regeneration and repair. That is, what is the link between structure and function in the brain? How does the brain change as we grow, learn and age? What happens in nervous system injury and disease, and how can we promote regeneration and repair?

Find out more from our website


  • 1990 PhD (DPhil) University of Oxford (Magdalen College)
  • 1986 Licenciada en Ciencias Biológicas (equivalent to BSc in Biological Sciences), Universidad Complutense de Madrid, Spain


I grew up in Madrid, Spain, and carried out my first degree in Biological Sciences at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid, graduating in 1986. I obtained my PhD (DPhil) from the University of Oxford (Madgalen College) in 1990, on Drosophila developmental genetics and supervised by Prof. Phil W. Ingham. I subsequently (1990-1992) obtained a post-doctoral fellowship from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Education to do a post-doctoral period with Prof Antonio García-Bellido, at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, working on the control of growth and form in Drosophila development.

I returned to UK with a Marie Curie Human Capital and Mobility Fellowship to do a second post-doc with Prof Andrea H. Brand at the Wellcome/CR-UK Institute, University of Cambridge (1993-1997). After this, I was awarded a Wellcome Trust Research Career Development Fellowship to establish my independent research group at the Department of Genetics, University of Cambridge (1997-2002). Here, I established my line of research into neuron-glia interactions during nervous system development. In 2001 I received an EMBO Young Investigator Award for my achievements as a young group leader.

In 2002, I moved to the School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, appointed Senior Lecturer, and where I consolidated my research into nervous system development using Drosophila.


  • BIO379: Cellular Neurobiology (Module Leader)
  • BIO213: Topics in Medical Biosciences: Brain function and disease
  • BIOM15: Biotechnology and Molecular Biology: Funding Science
  • BIO240: Communication and skills in biosciences
  • Neural Computation: The biological brain

Postgraduate supervision

PhD projects are offered in the general area of Developmental Neurobiology using the fruit-fly Drosophila as a model organism. Currently we are working in the areas of regeneration, neurotrophic factors and structural plasticity. We look at genes, molecules, neurons and glia in these contexts. Technical approaches include genetics, confocal microscopy, molecular biology and cell culture. We also collaborate with neurobiologists using mammals as model organisms, with biochemists, with electrophysiologists and with computer scientists

Masters projects are offered in the field of Developmental Neurobiology as above, and also in image processing.

For a list of possible PhD projects offered by Dr Hidalgo


Research Theme within School of Biosciences: Molecular Cell Biology and Signalling

Lab website address:

Birmingham Fly Facility:

Nervous system development: structural and developmental plasticity

Our lab aims to understand how the nervous system is formed, and how it works. Structure and function come together in the course of development, and influence each other throughout life, endowing the nervous system with plasticity. As the animal grows and nervous system volume and cell number increase, the two cell types in the nervous system - neurons and glial cells - make adjustments that modify migration patterns, axonal trajectories, cell division and cell survival. These plastic adjustments result in the robust, reproducible formation of the nervous system across individuals, and over evolutionary time. Conversely, these cell interactions fail in diseases of the nervous system and brain (e.g. neurodegenerative diseases, psychiatric disorders and brain tumours) and upon injury (e.g. upon spinal cord injury and stroke).

We use the fruit-fly Drosophila because it is a very powerful model organism to address questions swiftly, in vivo and with single cell resolution. Our approach combines genetics, molecular biology, cell culture, computational analysis and in vivo confocal microscopy in fixed specimens and in time-lapse.
We collaborate with biochemists (Prof. N.J. Gay, Cambridge), electrophysiologists (Dr I. Robinson, Plymouth) and experts using mice and rats as model organisms (Prof. A. Logan, IBR Birmingham and Dr F. Matsuzaki, Riken, Japan).

We have recently discovered:
1. Drosophila Neurotrophins (DNTs):
That a neurotrophin protein family in Drosophila formed of DNT1, DNT2 and Spz regulate neuronal cell number, connectivity and synaptogenesis. This demonstrated conserved structure and function of the neurotrophin super-family from flies to humans. The findings support the notion that a common mechanism underlies the origin and function of all brains in evolution and that there are fundamental aspects in the way brain structure and function are linked, in fruit-flies and humans. These findings are important to use Drosophila as a model to understand the brain and to model brain diseases.

2. DNT receptors of the Toll superfamily
That the receptors for the DNTs belong to the Toll receptor super-family. Whereas Toll receptors have universal functions in innate immunity, we found that Toll-6 and Toll-7 in flies function as neurotrophin receptors to regulate neuronal number and targeting, and hebaviour. This reveals the distinct evolution of neurotrophin signalling, shared origins of the immune and nervous systems, and unforeseen relationships between the neurotrophin and Toll protein superfamilies.

3. A gene network for CNS repair in Drosophila.
We have a discovered a gene network that can promote injury repair in the CNS of Drosophila. We have established a novel paradigm to investigate central nervous system regeneration and repair in fruit-flies. We have shown that we can manipulate this gene network to prevent or promote injury repair. We are collaborating with mammalian experts to directly test whether this gene network also operates in mammalian glia using mice - closer to human conditions.

4. Research in Imaging.
To address questions on structural plasticity, it is essential to acquire quantitative information on cell number (e.g. the number of dying or dividing cells, neurons or glia, in different genotypes or conditions) and number of synapses. Thus we developed programmes to enable us to do exactly that, for the whole central nervous system of Drosophila embryos, larvae and the adult brain. We also developed a programme to track crawling larvae. All of our programmes were developed as ImageJ plug-ins and are freely available through our lab web-page.
Research by the Hidalgo group is funded by: The Wellcome Trust, BBRSC project grants and EU Marie Curie IntraEuropean and International Incoming Fellowship and The Royal Society, and in the past has also received funding from the MRC and EMBO and PhD studentships from the BBSRC, MRC and the Government of Brunei.

Other activities

  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Biology 2014
  • EMBO Young Investigator Award (EMBO YIP) 2001
  • Wellcome Trust Committee Member from 2016
  • BBSRC Committee A Core Member 2012-2016
  • BBSRC Pool of Experts for Committes A, C and D 2009-2012
  • Member of the Advisory Board for Centre for Human Brain Health, University of Birmingham
  • Member of the Neuroscience & Ophthalmology Group, University of Birmingham
  • Co-founder and Co-director of Birmingham Advanced Light Microscopy (BALM) facility, University of Birmingham  since 2004
  • Exchange Tutor for Biosciences (Erasmus and International Exchange Students, incoming), University of Birmingham   
  • Editorial Board member for journals Neuron Glia Biology and International Journal of Developmental Biology


Neale J Harrison, Elizabeth Connolly, Alicia Gascón Gubieda, Zidan Yang, Benjamin Altenhein, Maria Losada Perez, Marta Moreira, Jun Sun, Alicia Hidalgo (2021) Regenerative neurogenic response from glia requires insulin-driven neuron-glia communication eLife 10:e58756 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.58756

Li, G and Hidalgo, A (2020) Adult neurogenesis in the Drosophila brain: the evidence and the voidInt. J. Mol. Sci. 202021(18), 6653

Guiyi Li, Manuel G. Forero, Jill Wentzell, Ilgim Durmus, Reinhard Wolf, Niki Anthoney, Mieczyslaw Parker, Ruiying Jiang, Jacob Hasenauer, Nicholas Strausfeld, Martin Heisenberg, Alicia Hidalgo (2020) A Toll-receptor map underlies structural brain plasticity. eLife 9:e52743 DOI: 10.7554/eLife.52743

Niki Anthoney, Istvan Foldi, Alicia Hidalgo (2018) Toll and Toll-like receptor signalling in development. Development 145: dev156018 doi: 10.1242/dev.156018  
Published 25 April 2018

Hidalgo, A and Logan, A (2017) Go and Stop signals for glial regeneration. Current Opinion in Neurobiology, 47: 182-187

Ulian- Benitez S., Bishop S., Foldi I., Wentzell J., Okenwa C., Forero MG., Zhu B., Moreira M., Phizacklea M., McIlroy G., Li, G., Gay N., Hidalgo A. (2017) Kek-6: a truncated Trk-like receptor for Drosophila Neurotrophin 2 regulates structural synaptic plasticity. PLoS Genetics

Kato, K., Losada-Perez, M and Hidalgo, A (2017) The gene network underlying the glial regenerative response to central nervous system injury. Developmental Dynamics, DOI: 10.1002/dvdy.24565

Foldi, Anthoney, Harrison, Gangloff, Verstak, Ponnadai Nallasivan, AlAhmed, Zhu, Phizacklea, Losada-Perez, Moreira, Gay and Hidalgo (2017) Three-tier regulation of cell number plasticity by neurotrophins and Tolls in Drosophila. Journal of Cell BIology, DOI: 10.1083/jcb.201607098 | Published April 3, 2017

  • See highlight on our findings by Keeler * Deppmann (2017) "The evolutionary origins of antagonistic neurotrophin signaling" Journal of Cell Biology  doi: 10.1083/jcb.201702115
  • Selected by Journal of Cell Biology Editors as one of the top 10 articles published in 2017

Losada-Perez M, Harrison N and Hidalgo, A (2017) Glial kon/NG2 gene network for central nervous system repair. Neural Regeneration Research 12, 31-34;year=2017;volume=12;issue=1;spage=31;epage=34;aulast=Losada-Perez

Losada-Perez, Harrison, Hidalgo (2016) Molecular mechanism of central nervous system repair by the Drosophila NG2 homologue kon-tiki. Journal of Cell Biology. doi: 10.1083/jcb.201603054

Kato K, KonnoD, Berry M, MatsuzakiF, Logan A, Hidalgo  (2015) Prox1 inhibits proliferation and is required for differentiation of the oligodendrocyte cell lineage in the mouse. PLoS One 10(12): e0145334, do: 10.1371/journal.pone.0145334

Sutcliffe B, Forero MG, Zhu B, Robinson I and Hidalgo A (2013) Neuron-type specific functions of DNT1, DNT2 and Spz at the Drosophila neuromuscular junction. PLoS One, 2013 Oct 4;8(10):e75902. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0075902

McIlroy G, Foldi I, Aurikko J, Wentzell JS, Lim MA, Fenton JC, Gay NJ and Hidalgo A (2013) Toll-6 and Toll-7 function as neurotorphin receptors in the Drosophila melanogaster CNS. Nature Neuroscience 16, 1248-1256. doi: 10.1038/nn.3474. Recommended by Faculty of 1000

Kato, K., Hidalgo, A. An Injury Paradigm to Investigate Central Nervous System Repair in Drosophila.(2013) J. Vis. Exp. (73), e50306, doi:10.3791/50306.

Forero, Kato and Hidalgo (2012) Automatic cell counting in vivo in the larval nervous system of Drosophila. J Microscopy. 2012 May;246(2):202-12. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2818.2012.03608

Kato K, Forero MG, Fenton JC and Hidalgo A (2011) The glial regenerative response to central nervous system injury is enabled by Pros-Notch and Pros-NFkB feedback. PLoS Biology 9: e1001133

Forero MG and Hidalgo A (2011) Image processing methods for automatic cell counting in vivo or in situ using 3D confocal microscopy. In "Advanced Biomedical Engineering: Ed. Gargiulo GD and McEwan A. Intech Open Access pages 183-204.

Hidalgo, Kato, Sutcliffe, McIlroy, Bishop and AlAhmed (2010) Trophic neuron-glia interactions and cell number adjustments in the fruit-fly. Glia DOI: 10.1002/glia.21092.

Forero, Learte, Cartwright and Hidalgo (2010) DeadEasy MitoGlia: automatic counting of mitotic cells and glia in the central nervous system of Drosophila. PLoS One 5, e10557

Forero, Pennack, and Hidalgo (2010) DeadEasy neurons: Automatic counting of HB9 neuronal nuclei in Drosophila. Cytometry Part A 77A, 371-378

Forero, Pennack, Learte and Hidalgo (2009) DeadEasy caspase: automatic counting of apoptotic cells in Drosophila. PLoS One 4, e5441.

Zhu, Pennack, McQuilton, Forero, Mizuguchi, Gu, Fenton and Hidalgo (2008) Drosophila neurotrophins reveal a common mechanism of nervous system formation. PLoS Biology 6, e284. See also pubcast at: Recommended by Faculty of 1000:

Learte, Forero and Hidalgo (2008) Gliatrophic and gliatropic functions of PVR signalling during axon guidance. Glia 56, 164-176

Griffiths, Benito-Sipos, Fenton, Torroja and Hidalgo (2007) Two distinct mechanisms segregate Prospero in the longitudinal glia underlying the timing of interactions with axons. Neuron-Glia Biology, 3, 75-88

Hidalgo, Learte, McQuilton, Pennack and Zhu (2006) Gliatrophic and neurotrophic contexts in Drosophila. Brain, Behaviour and Evolution 68, 173-180

Griffiths & Hidalgo (2004) Prospero maintains the proliferative potential of glial precursor cells enabling them to respond to neurons in the CNS. The EMBO J 23, 2440-2450

Kinrade & Hidalgo (2004) Local neuron-glia interactions change the response of axons to the Robo code. Neuron Glia Biology 1, 101-112.

Hidalgo & Griffiths (2004) Coupling glial numbers to axonal patterns. Cell Cycle 3, 1118-1120.

Hidalgo (2002) Interactive nervous system development: control of cell survival in Drosophila. Trends in Neurosciences 25, 365-370

Hidalgo, Kinrade, and Georgiou (2001) The Drosophila neuregulin Vein maintains glial survival during axon guidance in the CNS. Developmental Cell 1, 679-690

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