Molecular, Cellular & Developmental Biology

The program of study for molecular, cellular and developmental biology includes course work in fundamental and advanced areas of cell & molecular biology and development, and original laboratory research leading to the Ph.D. degree. Students will be provided the opportunity to work with faculty conducting research in a variety of areas of contemporary cell and molecular biology including molecular mechanisms of signal transduction, proteomics, cancer biology, cellular immunology, structure and function of the cardiovascular system including angiogenesis and lymphangiogenesis, the function of the immune system, and the mechanisms by which prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells sense, process, and respond to a variety of normal and abnormal stimuli.

Problems of cytodifferentiation, morphogenesis and cell and tissue interaction of developmental significance are being investigated with techniques of cell and tissue culture, molecular biology, ultrastructure and immunocytochemical methods.

Among the projects which are currently investigated are:

  1. the phenotypic consequences of human aneuploidy (trisomies 13, 18 and 21),
  2. the ontogeny of brain neuronal circuitry,
  3. the development of functional behaviors and behaviorally-specific brain pathways,
  4. the genetic basis of aging, and
  5. regenerative medicine.

We use an array of anatomical, physiological, imaging and genetic tools to study developmental and anatomical problems in several model systems including humans, rodents, zebrafish and oocytes. These programs provide our students the opportunity to receive training that prepares them for careers in academic, government, or industry research settings.

Faculty in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology

  • Dr. Mohammed Ashraf Aziz
  • Dr. James H. Baker – Muscle development and regeneration
  • Dr. Rui Diogo
  • Dr. Edwin Gilland
  • Dr. Marjorie Gondre-Lewis
  • Dr. Thomas Heinbockel – Neurobiology of the olfactory and limbic system
  • Dr. Lee V. Leak – Regulation of lymphangiogenesis
  • Dr. John K. Young – Neuroendocrinology of feeding


The Graduate Program in Anatomy offers training in diverse aspects of basic, clinical and translational neuroscience. In their research, our neuroscience faculty focus on the structure and function of the cerebral cortex, the olfactory system, the amygdala, the hypothalamus, the midbrain, the brainstem, and dopaminergic systems in the corpus striatum and substantia nigra.

Research on these structures seeks to solve a number of problems, e.g.,

  1. which genes and molecules control the process of cortical development?
  2. Which brainstem systems interact to control heart rate and respiratory function?
  3. How does hypothalamic dysfunction contribute to obesity, diabetes, or feeding disorders?
  4. How do dopaminergic neurons become dysfunctional in Parkinson’s disease?
  5. How do synapses react to neurotransmitters to process information?
  6. How do intrinsic and synaptic neuronal properties relate to information coding and neural network function?
  7. How do oculomotor and vestibular nuclei in the midbrain interact to control eye movement?

Techniques utilized to explore these questions include immunocytochemistry and intracellular staining of neurons and astrocytes, neuronal tract tracing, confocal microscopy, electrophysiological (extracellular and patch-clamp) recording and imaging techniques.

Faculty in Neuroscience

  • Dr. Edwin Gilland
  • Dr. Marjorie Gondre-Lewis
  • Dr. Thomas Heinbockel
  • Dr. Donald Rigamonti
  • Dr. Blair H. Turner
  • Dr. James Steven Wilson
  • Dr. John K. Young

Evolutionary & Organismal Biology

Students are provided the opportunity for training and research in descriptive and experimental anatomy. Graduate students will acquire a detailed and comprehensive knowledge of the human body by direct observation of dissected/prosected cadavers. This information can be applied to assessing human morphological variability and its evolutionary as well as clinical applications. Among our current projects are the evolutionary morphology of muscles, nerves and blood vessels in humans and the evolutionary morphology of the hominid locomotor systems. In addition to traditional dissection, students also apply micro-surgical and contemporary image-based (CAT scans, MRI) modalities to analyze structure.

The Evolutionary Biology faculty in the department have varying interests, but a general, overarching interest in Cenozoic mammal evolution. One emphasis is the evolution of aquatic mammals with active research on sirenians and desmostylians, cetaceans, and pinnipeds.

Another emphasis is the evolution of Neogene Old World mammals, with active research on hominoid primates, rodents, carnivores, perissodactyls, and suids. Our research projects are integrative including systematics, functional anatomy, paleodietary adaptations, taphonomy, paleoecology and biogeography.

Members of the Evolutionary Biology Laboratory have been active in paleobiological field work over the 30 years that the laboratory has existed. Our faculty have conducted research in the United States, several European, African and South American countries. Active field projects include the Cenozoic of Pakistan, Miocene of Central Europe and the Ukraine, and the Eocene of Jamaica. Our graduate students have pursued Master’s theses and Ph.D. dissertation projects on fossils from throughout the world.

As Research Associates of the Smithsonian Institution’s Department of Paleobiology, the faculty and students of the Evolutionary Biology Laboratory have access to both extant and fossil collections and work closely with Smithsonian personnel on a variety of field and museum research projects. The laboratory is currently supported by a number of NSF grants.

Faculty in Evolutionary Biology

  • Dr. Miranda Armour-Chelu
  • Dr. Mohammed Ashraf Aziz
  • Dr. Raymond L. Bernor
  • Dr. Rui Diogo
  • Dr. Daryl P. Domning
  • Dr. Edwin Gilland
  • Dr. Thomas Heinbockel
  • Dr. S. Taseer Hussain
  • Dr. Irina A. Koretsky