Cell & Developmental Biology
faculty photo

Mary C. Mullins, Ph.D.

Professor of Cell and Developmental Biology
Department: Cell and Developmental Biology
Graduate Group Affiliations

Contact information
421 Curie Boulevard
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6058
Office: 215-898-2644
Fax: 215-898-9871
B.S. (Biochemistry, Summa Cum Laude)
University of Wisconsin, Madison, 1984.
Ph.D. (Biochemistry)
University of California at Berkeley, 1989.
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Description of Research Expertise

Research Interests
BMP signal transduction; molecular mechanisms of cell specification and maternal control in vertebrates.

Key words: maternal-effect, midblastula transition, Bone Morphogenetic Protein (BMP), signal transduction, Smad5, molecular-genetics, genomics, zebrafish, development, cell specification, embryonic axis

Description of Research

We are studying the molecular mechanisms by which a BMP (Bone Morphogenetic Protein) signal transduction pathway establishes different aspects of the vertebrate body plan. Various zebrafish mutants of BMP pathway components, as well as antisense knockdown approaches are used to dissect the molecular mechanisms by which this pathway establishes different cell types. We are studying the formation, function, and temporal regulation of a BMP activity gradient, which is implicated in specification of diverse cell types along the dorsal-ventral axis. We have shown that this gradient is essential in neural crest specification and is linked to dorsal-ventral patterning of neural tissue. Moreover, a subset of our defined components also function in post-embryonic heart development. Misregulation of BMP signaling leads to a debilitating disease in humans called FOP. We are currently trying to establish a model for FOP in the zebrafish.

Elaboration of the vertebrate body plan relies not only on zygotic processes, but also on maternally-controlled processes. That is, processes that depend on products derived from the mother that are deposited into the oocyte and are critical for proper development of the embryo. To this end we performed a large-scale maternal-effect mutant screen, not previously performed in a vertebrate, to identify mutants of key genes specifically required in the mother for oocyte development, egg activation, fertilization, the midblastula transition, and establishment of the axes of the vertebrate embryo. We identified numerous mutants in these processes and are studying the molecular and cellular basis for the defects, including positional cloning of the mutated genes.

Rotation Projects
1. Studies of maternal regulation of embryonic development, including the midblastula transition and animal-vegetal polarity.
2. Positional cloning of maternal control genes in the zebrafish.
3. Molecular activities of type I BMP receptors.
4. Studies on the action of BMPs as heterodimers versus homodimers.
5. The post-embryonic role of BMP signaling in heart development.

Lab personnel:
Bill Vought, research technician
Hong Zhang, research specialist
David Cobb, joint fish facility manager
Mona Finch-Stephen, joint fish technician
Yaniv Elkouby, postdoctoral researcher
Daniel Bricker, postdoctoral researcher
Yvette Langdon, postdoctoral researcher
James Dutko, postdoctoral researcher
Francesca Tuazon, graduate student
Joe Zinski, graduate student
Amy Kugath, research specialist
Matias Escobar, graduate student
Ricardo Fuentes, postdoctoral researcher
Ben Tajer, graduate student
Allison Jamieson-Lucy, graduate student

Selected Publications

Little, S. C. and Mullins, M.C.: Bone morphogenetic protein heterodimers assemble heteromeric type I receptor complexes to pattern the dorsoventral axis. Nature Cell Biology 11(5): 637-43, May 2009 (Cover photo).

Holloway BA, Gomez de la Torre Canny S, Ye Y, Slusarski DC, Freisinger, CM, Dosch R, Chou MM, Wagner DS, and Mullins MC: A novel role for MAPKAPK2 in morphogenesis during zebrafish development. PloS Genetics 5(3): e1000413, March 2009.

Bontems F, Stein A, Marlow F, Lyautey J,, Gupta T., Mullins M.C. and Dosch R.: The bucky ball gene controls germ plasm localization in the zebrafish oocyte. Current Biology 19(5): 414-22, March 10 2009.

Tucker, Jennifer A. Mintzer, Keith A. Mullins, Mary C.: The BMP signaling gradient patterns dorsoventral tissues in a temporally progressive manner along the anteroposterior axis. Developmental Cell 14(1): 108-19, Jan 2008.

Marlow, Florence L. Mullins, Mary C.: Bucky ball functions in Balbiani body assembly and animal-vegetal polarity in the oocyte and follicle cell layer in zebrafish. Developmental Biology 321(1): 40-50, Sep 1 2008.

Shin, Donghun. Shin, Chong Hyun. Tucker, Jennifer. Ober, Elke A. Rentzsch, Fabian. Poss, Kenneth D. Hammerschmidt, Matthias. Mullins, Mary C. Stainier, Didier Y R.: Bmp and Fgf signaling are essential for liver specification in zebrafish. Development 134(11): 2041-50, Jun 2007.

Connors, Stephanie A. Tucker, Jennifer A. Mullins, Mary C.: Temporal and spatial action of tolloid (mini fin) and chordin to pattern tail tissues. Developmental Biology 293(1): 191-202, May 1 2006.

Mullins, Mary C.: Tolloid gets Sizzled competing with Chordin. Developmental Cell 10(2): 154-6, Feb 2006.

Little, Shawn C. Mullins, Mary C.: Twisted gastrulation promotes BMP signaling in zebrafish dorsal-ventral axial patterning. Development 131(23): 5825-35, Dec 2004.

Dosch, R., Wagner, D.S., Mintzer, K.A., Runke, G., Wiemelt, A.P., and Mullins, M. C.: Maternal Control of Vertebrate Development before the Midblastula Transition: Mutants from the Zebrafish I. Developmental Cell 6: 771-80, 2004 (cover photo).

Wagner, D.S., Dosch, R., Mintzer, K.A., Wiemelt, A.P., and Mullins, M.C.: Maternal Control of Development at the Mid-Blastula Transition and Beyond: Mutants from the Zebrafish II. Developmental Cell 6: 781-90 2004 (cover photo).

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Last updated: 08/23/2016
The Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania

Department of Cell and Developmental Biology
1150 BRB II
421 Currie Boulevard
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Tel: (215) 573-9306
Fax: (215) 898-9871