• cell adhesion



    the DeSimone Laboratory at the University of Virginia

  • We study the emergence of

    biological form...

    Our research interest is morphogenesis; we are working to uncover cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in generating the proper three-dimensional organization of embryos and tissues. We focus primarily on cellular movements required for gastrulation and neurulation using embryos from the amphibian Xenopus laevis.

    ...the role of cell-cell and cell-ECM adhesion in this process...

    Precise spatiotemporal regulation of cell adhesion and adhesion-dependent cell signaling is required for the coordination of directed cell movements and the establishment of cell and tissue polarity. Embryonic extracellular matrices (ECMs) serve to define compartments within which cell movements are confined and regulated.

    ...and how mechanical forces influence development.

    In recent years our studies have focused increasingly on the signaling "crosstalk" between stressed cadherin adhesions at cell-cell interfaces and integrin adhesions to the ECM. We have determined that tugging forces on cadherin adhesions are required to establish the polarized protrusions of collectively migrating cells on fibronectin. Current research seeks to elucidate the instructive importance of mechanical cues in directing not only morphogenetic behaviors but also gene expression.


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    Cadherin adhesion, tissue tension, and noncanonical wnt signaling regulate fibronectin matrix organization

    Dzamba, B., Jakab, K.R., Marsden, M., Schwartz, M.A., and DeSimone, D.W.

    (2009) Developmental Cell 16, 421-432

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    A Mechanoresponsive cadherin-keratin complex directs polarized protrusive behavior and collective cell migration

    Weber, G.F., Bjerke, M.A., and DeSimone, D.W.

    (2012) Developmental Cell 22, 104-115

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    Mechanical and signaling roles for keratin intermediate filaments in the assembly and morphogenesis of Xenopus mesendoderm tissue at gastrulation

    Sonavane, P.R., Wang, C., Dzamba, B., Weber, G.F., Periasamy, P. and DeSimone D.W.

    (2017) Development 144, 4363-4376


    Present and Past

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    Ivy Foundation Pratt Distinguished Professor of Morphogenesis, Principal Investigator

    Doug has been interested in the problem of morphogenesis since grad school. As a doctoral student with Mel Spiegel, he described blastomere lineage-specific differences in cell surface protein expression in sea urchin embryos. While a postdoc with Richard Hynes at MIT, he and his colleagues provided the first molecular characterization of integrin receptors. Since coming to UVA his lab has used Xenopus embryos to investigate the roles of extracellular matrix proteins, integrins and cadherins in cell adhesion and migration. Doug's current focus is to uncover the roles mechanical forces play in adhesion-dependent cell-signaling, morphogenesis and cell-fate determination.

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    Senior Scientist

    Bette was first introduced to extracellular matrix as a high school student intern at Ciba-Geigy corporation where she spent her summer sectioning arthritic rabbit knees. In graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, and then as a postdoc at Shriners Hospital in Portland, Oregon, she became fascinated by the question of how cells assemble and interact with their extracellular matrix. She joined Doug’s lab in order to study the dynamics of the matrix during the complex morphogenetic cell and tissue movements of early embryogenesis.

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    Senior Scientist

    Dave is in interested in how morphogenic machines work. He spent several years in the Keller lab investigating how cell movements generate morphogenic shape changes and how groups of cells work together to generate the forces that drive these changes. In the DeSimone lab, he has taken this to the next (smaller-scale) level, and is working to understand the cell biology underlying the biomechanics of morphogenic machines.

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    Gustavo Pacheco

    Graduate Student

    As an undergrad at the University of Chicago, Gustavo was intrigued by the simple invasion assays he conducted on Lymphangioleiomyomatosis cells, a rare lung cancer cell that is only found in women. He further explored his interest in cell migration as a post-bac at the NIH, where he characterized epithelial cancer cell migration at the single-cell level in 3D culture systems. He was especially excited to join the UVA Medical Scientist Training Program for his MD/PhD to study molecular mechanisms underlying collective cell migration in the DeSimone lab. In Gustavo's free time, he enjoys exploring the restaurant scenes of Charlottesville, Richmond, and Washington DC. In fact, he was able to eat fancy meals for free while in college by taking pretty pictures of the food!

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    Tien Comlekoglu

    Graduate Student

    Tien took some time off from UVA medical school in 2021 to work in the DeSimone lab and get bitten by the research bug. In the time since, he successfully gained admission into the Medical Scientist Training Program at UVA and is now working toward a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering co-mentored by Drs. DeSimone and Peirce-Cottler. Tien is interested in computational modeling of cell movements using both agent based and finite element methods.

    c. 1996


    Lab Mascot

    Sampson brings more than 7 years of squirrel chasing experience to the lab. His primary goal is to one day catch a squirrel. When not pursuing varmints, Sampson likes to unwind with the PI.

    c. 1996

    Lab Alums

    Predocs - Postdocs - Support Staff

    David Ransom

    Fanying Meng

    Joe Ramos

    Charles A. Whittaker

    Benjamin Hoffstrom

    Katherine Smith

    Na Jie

    Guofeng Xu

    Tania Rozario

    Maureen Bjerke

    Glen Hirsh

    Crystal Richardson

    Pooja Sonavane

    Sandra J. Kateeshock

    Margaret Bolton

    Shannon O'Neil


    Mark Hens

    Thomas Lallier

    Dominique Alfandari

    Theresa Curtis

    Alban Gaultier

    Helene Cousin

    Mungo Marsden

    Lance Davidson

    Karoly Jakab

    Shuo Wei

    Gregory Weber

    Chong Wang


    Laura Bolling

    Anne Allison

    Phoebe Williams

    Fred Simon


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    Postdoctoral and Predoctoral Training

    Please check back here for announcements of open positions and training opportunities at the predoctoral and postdoctoral levels. Prospective students are encouraged to apply to our Biomedical Sciences Graduate Program (BIMS). Existing BIMS students are invited to check out the Cell and Developmental Biology (CDB) Program at UVA and to come by and talk to Doug about lab rotation opportunities.

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    Position Announcement

    The DeSimone laboratory seeks a highly-motivated Postdoctoral Research Associate interested in exploring the importance of mechanical forces in the patterning and morphogenesis of embryos. Our lab has a long-standing interest in mechanisms of cell adhesion and adhesion-dependent cell signaling, and the involvement of these processes in regulating cell and tissue movements, gene expression and cell fate decisions, using Xenopus as a model system. Our research utilizes multiple approaches including live cell imaging, gene-editing, biochemistry and cell biology, and biomechanics. We are looking for a skilled cell and developmental biologist with high enthusiasm for science who will contribute positively to the multidisciplinary, collaborative atmosphere fostered within the DeSimone lab and the Department of Cell Biology.


    Where we are and how to reach us.



    mailing address:

    DeSimone laboratory

    Department of Cell Biology

    University of Virginia

    P.O. Box 800732, School of Medicine

    Charlottesville, VA 22908


    physical address:

    Pinn Hall, room 3229

    1340 Jefferson Park Avenue


    38o 1' 54.642" N

    78o 30' 1.9296" W


    lab phone:




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