Dept of Biology
Virginia Commonwealth University
1000 West Cary Street
In humans, the orofacial region is enormously important. It is the gateway for our interactions with the environment, food ingestion, communication and facial recognition. Therefore, not surprisingly, some of the most devastating birth defects are those that affect the mouth and face, especially if they result in cleft lip and/or cleft palate. Unfortunately, the molecular mechanisms that lead to these developmental defects are poorly understood. Thus, the broad goals of our lab are to further our understanding of orofacial development. Specifically, we are interested in the molecular signaling and interactions that occur between the developing embryonic mouth and surrounding facial tissues. Our research is important for two reasons. First, abnormalities in orofacial development result in facial birth defects such as cleft lip/palate. Thus, understanding the molecular mechanisms that lead to the formation of these defects could help direct future treatments and/or preventative therapies. Second, as the orofacial region is derived from a common structure in all vertebrates, our research has the potential to help us understand the evolution of facial variability. The Lab uses a comprehensive multi-disciplinary approach to study these important questions. We apply molecular and embryological techniques such as microarray and in situ hybridization expression analysis, gene knockdown and state of the art imaging to help us understand the molecular and cellular regulation of orofacial development in the model organisms Xenopus laevis and Xenopus tropicalis.