University of Oklahoma

Department of Biology

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Research Interest

Research in the McCauley lab is focused on evolutionary changes to developmental mechanisms that were important for the origin of novel vertebrate characters, with a particular focus on the neural crest. The neural crest is a fascinating cell population that gives rise to many of the traits that we usually associate with vertebrates. In the head region, neural crest cells give rise to a diverse array of cell types, including cartilage and bones of the face, pigment cells, and make contributions to cranial ganglia, while in the trunk region they give rise to sensory and sympathetic neurons, glial, and pigment cells. We are using the sea lamprey as a model to study neural crest evolution and are integrating these investigations into studies that also use zebrafish mutants to identify the evolutionary conservation of developmental mechanisms (see below). Molecular tools available for use in lampreys include antisense morpholinos. We have used morpholinos to knock down activity of genes of interest required for neural crest development. Currently, the lab is focused on the role of SoxE genes in the early evolution of vertebrates, and how diversification of SoxE genes might have been important in early vertebrates for establishing differences in development of the branchial skeleton that supports the pharynx. We are also interested in the development of trunk neural crest in the lamprey to determine if there are important differences in the developmental mechanisms in these cells from that described in other vertebrates.  We have recently begun to use a heterospecific approach to understanding how functional changes to the SoxE proteins may arise. We express the lamprey SoxE sequences in zebrafish Sox9a (jellyfish) or Sox10 (colourless) mutant embryos and analyze the rescue phenotypes. Zebrafish lacking Sox9a or Sox9b expression lose their branchial skeleton. However, forced expression of lamprey SoxE1 in this mutant results in partial recovery of these cartilage structures. Similarly, the Sox10 mutant fish lacks dorsal root ganglia, enteric neurons, and pigment. Expresion in the Sox10 mutant of all three of the lamprey SoxE gene sequences can rescue these phenotypes, with SoxE2 resulting in robust pigment and neuronal rescue. Presently, we are starting to use deletion and chimeric construct analysis techniques to begin to determine how amino acid sequence differences among the SoxE genes are critical for their cell type-specific activities. Projects related to the above described theme are available to prospective graduate students interested the McCauley lab.

For more information about opportunities for post-doctoral, graduate and undergraduate research in my lab, please contact me at 405-325-9038 or

  Page Author:DW McCauley- Last Modified: 01 March 2013