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Elizabeth H. Chen, M.S., Ph.D.

Photo of Dr. Elizabeth H. Chen, M.S., Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics

Research Interests: Mechanisms of cell-cell fusion in development and disease

Background

Dr. Elizabeth Chen is an associate professor of molecular biology and genetics at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Her research focuses on mechanisms of cell-cell fusion in development and disease. Based on Dr. Chen’s insights obtained from studies of myoblast fusion in Drosophila embryos, her lab has reconstituted high efficiency cell-cell fusion in cultured cells that otherwise do not fuse. The goal of her research is ultimately to provide the basis for optimizing stem cell-mediated tissue regeneration in genetic and acquired diseases such as muscular dystrophy.

Dr. Chen received her undergraduate degree in biology from Peking University. She earned a master’s degree in chemistry and biochemistry from UCLA and received her Ph.D. in developmental biology from the Stanford University School of Medicine. She completed her postdoctoral fellowship in molecular biology at UT Southwestern Medical Center. Dr. Chen joined the Johns Hopkins faculty in 2004.

Dr. Chen teaches three courses in the Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology Graduate Program. She has received numerous awards for her work, including the Basil O’Connor Starter Scholar Research Award from the March of Dimes and the National Scientist Development Award by the American Heart Association.

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Titles

  • Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics
  • Associate Professor of Cell Biology

Education

Degrees

  • B.S., Peking University (China) (1990)
  • M.S., University of California (Los Angeles) (California) (1992)
  • Ph.D., Stanford University (California) (1998)

Research & Publications

Research Summary

Dr. Chen and her lab are interested in understanding the mechanisms of cell-cell fusion. Although cell-cell fusion occurs in several specialized cell types, it is critical for the conception, development and physiology of multicellular organisms.

With the long-term goal of revealing the general mechanisms underlying cell-cell fusion, the Chen Lab focuses its investigations on myoblast fusion, an indispensible step during skeletal muscle development and stem cell-mediated muscle regeneration. The lab primarily uses the model system Drosophila, since myoblast fusion in Drosophila is a highly conserved process, yet it is relatively simple and genetically tractable. The Chen Lab first identified a collection of genes required for myoblast fusion in vivo and subsequently placed these genes in a signaling cascade that transduces the fusion signal from the cell membrane to intracellular components. Most of the fusion genes identified to date are linked to actin cytoskeleton remodeling, indicating an essential role for actin polymerization in cell membrane fusion.

Subsequent studies in the lab have found that, contrary to the common belief that cell-cell fusion is a symmetrical process between two fusion partners, myoblast fusion is actually mediated by a cell type-specific, F-actin-propelled podosome-like structure (PLS) that invades the opposing fusion partner with multiple protrusive fingers to promote fusion pore formation. The lab has demonstrated that the dynamics of actin polymerization and the proper assembly of actin filaments within the PLS are critical for its invasion.

Lab

Based on the insights obtained from the Chen Lab’s studies of myoblast fusion in Drosophila embryos, it has reconstituted high efficiency cell-cell fusion in cultured cells that otherwise do not fuse. This de novo cell fusion culture system not only reveals a general role for actin-propelled invasive membrane protrusions in driving fusogenic protein engagement during cell-cell fusion, but also provides an exciting platform for detailed mechanistic analysis of the fusion process and for genome-wide screens of new components of the cell-cell fusion machinery. Dr. Chen hopes that future studies will continue to shed light on the biology of cell-cell fusion and ultimately provide a basis for optimizing stem cell-mediated tissue regeneration in genetic and acquired diseases.

Lab Website: Chen Lab

Selected Publications

Kim, JH, Ren, Y, Ng, WP, Li, S, Kee, YS, Son, S, Zhang, S, Zhang, G, Fletcher, DA, Robinson, DN, and Chen, EH. (2015) Mechanical tension drives cell membrane fusion. Dev. Cell 2015 Feb 11 doi: 10.1016/j.devcel.2015.01.005 [Epub ahead of print]

Shilagardi K, Li S, Luo F, Marikar F, Duan R, Jin P, Kim J, Murnen K, and Chen EH. "Actin-propelled invasive membrane protrusions promote fusogenic protein engagement during cell-cell fusion." Science 2013 Apr 19;340(6130):359-363. 2013.

Duan R, Jin P, Luo F, Zhang G, Anderson N, and Chen EH. "Group I PAKs function downstream of Rac to regulate podosome invasion during myoblast fusion in vivo." J Cell Biol.199(1):169-85. 2012.

Jin P, Duan R, Luo F, Zhang G, Hong N, and Chen EH. "Competition between Blown Fuse and WASP for WIP binding regulates the dynamics of WASP-dependent actin polymerization in vivo." Dev. Cell 20:623-638. 2011.

Sens KL, Zhang S, Jin P, Duan R, Zhang G, Luo F, Parachini L, and Chen EH. "An invasive podosome-like structure promotes fusion pore formation during myoblast fusion." J. Cell Biol. 191, 1013-1027. 2010.

Kim S, Shilagardi K, Zhang S, Hong SN, Sens KL, Bo J, Gonzalez GA, and Chen EH. "A Critical Function for the Actin Cytoskeleton in Targeted Exocytosis of Prefusion Vesicles During Myoblast Fusion." Dev. Cell 12, 571-586. 2007.

Academic Affiliations & Courses

Graduate Program Affiliation

Biochemistry, Cellular and Molecular Biology

Courses and Syllabi

  • Fundamentals of Genetics

Activities & Honors

Honors

  • Plenary Lecture, 51st Annual Drosophila Research Conference, 2010
  • National Scientist Development Award, American Heart Association, 2005
  • Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr. Foundation Young Investigator Award, 2005
  • Basil O'Connor Starter Scholar Research Award, March of Dimes, 2006
  • Searle Scholar, The Chicago Community Trust, 2006
  • David and Lucile Packard Fellowship for Science and Engineering, 2005
  • 1st Annual Postdoctoral Research Award, UT Southwestern , 2003
  • Postdoctoral Fellowship, The Helen Hay Whitney Foundation , 2000

Professional Activities

  • Platform Session Chair, 50th Annual Drosophila Research Conference, 2009
  • Scientific Committee, EMBO Workshop on Cell-Cell Fusion, 2013
  • Session Chair, Colby-Sawyer College, 2009
    2nd Biennial Gordon Research Conference on Cell-Cell Fusion
  • Young Investigator Day Program Committee, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, 2010 - 2011
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