John Postlethwait

Professor, Department of Biology
Member, ION

Ph.D. Case Western Reserve
B.S. Stanford Univeristy


Research Interests: Genetic regulation of animal development including development of the nervous system, the mechanisms of sex determination, the origin of novel morphologies in evolution and the evolution of the vertebrate genome.

Overview: Our laboratory is interested in the genetic, genomic, and evolutionary principles that guide animal development. We investigate several aspects of this main problem: 

Genome Duplication: The evolution of gene functions in development after genome duplication, focusing on skeletal development.

Fanconi anemia: A small molecule screen for compounds to rescue zebrafish Fanconi Anemia mutants as a way to identify potential therapeutics for human FA patients and to understand disease mechanisms.

MicroRNAs: The roles of microRNAs in embryonic (especially skeletal) development, including evolving miRNA functions after genome duplication.

Icefish: The genetic basis for the evolution of osteopenia or osteoporosis in Antarctic icefish.

Sex determinaion:The developmental genetic basis for sex determination in zebrafish.

Speciation: The roles of genome duplication in lineage divergence, focusing on the evolution of cis and trans acting regulation in the radiation of the danio lineage, including zebrafish, and on variation among populations of stickleback.

Oikopleura: Retaining a chordate body plan as an adult, the larvacean urochordate Oikopleura dioica represents the sister lineage to the vertebrates, diverging before the R1 and R2 rounds of genome duplication that led to the origin of vertebrate innovations.

Perchlorate toxicity and sex determination: Perchlorate is a pervasive environmental contaminant that can cause partial sex reversal in stickleback. We are investigating the hypotheses that perchlorate alters sex development through the thyroid or a non-thyroidal mechanism.

Drosophila developmental genetics: Work on Drosophila homeotic mutants, pattern formation, and ovary development.


Related Articles

Lipid droplet biology and evolution illuminated by the characterization of a novel Perilipin in teleost fish.

Elife. 2017 Feb 28;6:

Authors: Granneman JG, Kimler VA, Zhang H, Ye X, Luo X, Postlethwait JH, Thummel R

Perilipin (PLIN) proteins constitute an ancient family important in lipid droplet (LD) formation and triglyceride metabolism. We identified an additional PLIN clade (plin6) that is unique to teleosts and can be traced to the two whole genome duplications that occurred early in vertebrate evolution. Plin6 is highly expressed in skin xanthophores, which mediate red/yellow pigmentation and trafficking, but not in tissues associated with lipid metabolism. Biochemical and immunochemical analyses demonstrate that zebrafish Plin6 protein targets the surface of pigment-containing carotenoid droplets (CD). Protein kinase A (PKA) activation, which mediates CD dispersion in xanthophores, phosphorylates Plin6 on conserved residues. Knockout of plin6 in zebrafish severely impairs the ability of CD to concentrate carotenoids and prevents tight clustering of CD within carotenoid bodies. Ultrastructural and functional analyses indicate that LD and CD are homologous structures, and that Plin6 was functionalized early in vertebrate evolution for concentrating and trafficking pigment.

PMID: 28244868 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]

Related Articles

Pth4, an ancient parathyroid hormone lost in eutherian mammals, reveals a new brain-to-bone signaling pathway.

FASEB J. 2017 Feb;31(2):569-583

Authors: Suarez-Bregua P, Torres-Nuñez E, Saxena A, Guerreiro P, Braasch I, Prober DA, Moran P, Cerda-Reverter JM, Du SJ, Adrio F, Power DM, Canario AV, Postlethwait JH, Bronner ME, Cañestro C, Rotllant J

Regulation of bone development, growth, and remodeling traditionally has been thought to depend on endocrine and autocrine/paracrine modulators. Recently, however, brain-derived signals have emerged as key regulators of bone metabolism, although their mechanisms of action have been poorly understood. We reveal the existence of an ancient parathyroid hormone (Pth)4 in zebrafish that was secondarily lost in the eutherian mammals' lineage, including humans, and that is specifically expressed in neurons of the hypothalamus and appears to be a central neural regulator of bone development and mineral homeostasis. Transgenic fish lines enabled mapping of axonal projections leading from the hypothalamus to the brainstem and spinal cord. Targeted laser ablation demonstrated an essential role for of pth4-expressing neurons in larval bone mineralization. Moreover, we show that Runx2 is a direct regulator of pth4 expression and that Pth4 can activate cAMP signaling mediated by Pth receptors. Finally, gain-of-function experiments show that Pth4 can alter calcium/phosphorus levels and affect expression of genes involved in phosphate homeostasis. Based on our discovery and characterization of Pth4, we propose a model for evolution of bone homeostasis in the context of the vertebrate transition from an aquatic to a terrestrial lifestyle.-Suarez-Bregua, P., Torres-Nuñez, E., Saxena, A., Guerreiro, P., Braasch, I., Prober, D. A., Moran, P., Cerda-Reverter, J. M., Du, S. J., Adrio, F., Power, D. M., Canario, A. V. M., Postlethwait, J. H., Bronner, M E., Cañestro, C., Rotllant, J. Pth4, an ancient parathyroid hormone lost in eutherian mammals, reveals a new brain-to-bone signaling pathway.

PMID: 28148780 [PubMed - in process]