We are interested the mechanisms that govern the development and regeneration of skeletal muscle. Adult skeletal muscle contains hundreds of nuclei that are formed from the fusion between muscle precursor cells (myoblasts). Our current focus is to understand the molecules and mechanisms that mediate myoblast fusion. We discovered a muscle-specific protein (named myomaker/TMEM8c) that is absolutely required for the fusion of myoblasts and are now investigating the biochemical and biophysical properties of this membrane protein. Plasma membrane fusion is also a fundamental cellular process for fertilization, and the physiology of placental trophoblasts, osteoclasts, and macrophages, so our studies may have important implications for non-muscle systems.
Another line of investigation deals with muscular dystrophy (MD), a prominent genetic disease of skeletal muscle. While there are many potential options for therapy for MD, the ideal scenario involves re-introduction of the disrupted gene either through gene or cell therapy. To this end, we are employing a fusion-based strategy to introduce healthy nuclei into the muscle fiber as means to correct the genetic deficiency. Overall, our goal is to elucidate the mechanisms of muscle formation, then to use that knowledge to devise novel strategies to repair diseased skeletal muscle.
Our lab is also actively involved in the Neuromuscular Development Group. Our collaborations aim to accelerate research in the development and diseases of the neuromuscular system.