The cell is the fundamental building block of all organs and tissues, but it is their higher order assembly into complex patterns that enables tissues to perform specialized functions. Long-range directional signals and cell-to-cell communication coordinate cellular behaviors globally, across entire tissues. Our research focuses on understanding how cells send, receive, and interpret directional cues via the planar cell polarity pathway (PCP), and in response, coordinate globally aligned behaviors over extremely long distances.
The PCP pathway can be thought of as the cells’ compass, instructing cells about which direction to move, divide, or assemble subcellular structures. When cells lose their sense of direction due to genetic disruptions to PCP, severe developmental disorders arise such as neural tube defects, cystic kidney disease, hearing loss, ciliopathies, and heart abnormalities. Combining time-lapse imaging and biophysical approaches with genetics and biochemistry, we use skin as a model system to identify long-range signals that direct global tissue organization, and to decipher how cells respond by coordinating growth and polarity. By understanding the mechanisms governing global tissue patterning, we hope to understand how developmental disorders arise when these pathways go awry, while making inroads towards generating functional organs in vitro.
Danelle Devenport is Associate Professor of Molecular Biology at Princeton University, where her research focuses on the development of tissue patterning and its maintenance during growth and regeneration. She was previously a postdoctoral fellow with Elaine Fuchs at The Rockefeller University, and trained with Nick Brown as a Wellcome Trust graduate student at the University of Cambridge. She is also the recipient of the NIH Pathway to Independence Award and the Searle Scholars Award.