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Laboratory of Cellular & Developmental Biology

Investigating molecular mechanisms of cell differentiation and development to understand normal biology and provide insight into human disease.
About the Lab

Lab Sections & Chiefs

Gene Regulation and Development Section

Ann Dean, Ph.D., Section Chief

The Gene Regulation and Development Section studies how enhancers activate transcription. Research focuses on the mouse and human beta-globin gene families that are regulated in a tissue and developmental-stage-specific fashion by a complex enhancer, the locus control region (LCR). We use biochemical, genetic, genomic, and computational approaches in cell lines, embryonic stem cells, and mice to (1) identify proteins involved in chromatin looping between the LCR and globin genes, (2) investigate the role of long non-coding RNAs in LCR function, and (3) determine how chromosome folding influences enhancers. The studies contribute to gene therapy efforts by revealing the complex interplay between genes and their modulators in the nucleus.

Mammalian Developmental Biology Section

Jurrien Dean, M.D., NIH Distinguished Investigator, Section Chief

The Mammalian Developmental Biology Section investigates female gonadogenesis and early embryogenesis. Research emphasizes events that define the maternal to embryonic transition in mammals by developing models and testing their predictions with mouse transgenesis. One investigative focus is on genetic hierarchies that control follicle formation and expression of maternal effect genes within the ovary. Another is on the molecular basis of sperm-egg recognition that results in fertilization and the intricately orchestrated events that effectively prevent polyspermy. Lastly, we investigate the role of maternal gene products in the activation of the embryonic genome progression through cleavage-stage development and establishment of initial embryonic cell lineages.

Molecular Mechanisms of Development Section

Alan R. Kimmel, Ph.D., Section Chief

The Molecular Mechanisms of Development Section investigates molecular processes required for establishing a terminally differentiated organism from a homogeneous population of totipotent cells. Work in the section focuses on receptor-mediated signal transduction pathways, as well as nuclear targets to identify mechanisms that specify multicellular differentiation, developmental cell fate, and pattern formation. Approaches include genetic screens, cell imaging, biochemical assay, and deep sequencing with computational analyses. Recent data have defined novel regulatory pathways for mTOR, tyrosine kinase, and presenilin signaling, and demonstrated an essential role for gene-specific chromatin remodeling for developmental induction.

Section on Regulatory RNAs

Katherine McJunkin, Ph.D., Stadtman Tenure-Track Investigator, Acting Section Chief

Research in the McJunkin lab has two major long-term goals: 1) to define the biological functions of miRNAs during embryogenesis and 2) to elucidate mechanisms of miRNA turnover. Using C. elegans as a model organism to address these questions, we combine the strengths of classical forward genetics with CRISPR-Cas-9-mediated genome editing, next-generation sequencing, cell biology, and biochemical techniques. Because embryonically-expressed miRNAs exhibit a sharp decrease in abundance at the end of embryogenesis, our efforts to simultaneously study the biology of these miRNAs and the mechanisms of miRNA decay has the potential to uncover regulatory modules that couple miRNA decay to developmental timing.