Harvard University - Department of Molecular & Cellular Biology


Leo Erikson Life Sciences Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology
Chair of the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology

Email: schier@fas.harvard.edu
Phone: 617-496-4835

Mail: BL 1029
The Biological Labs
16 Divinity Ave
Cambridge, MA  02138

Schier Lab Website
MCB News Profile
Members of the Schier Lab
List of Publications from PubMed


MCB 60. Cellular Biology and Molecular Medicine
Catalog Number: 35967  View Course Website
Term: Fall Term 2014-2015.
Instructors: Vladimir Denic, Alexander Schier
Course Level: Primarily for Undergraduates
Description: This course provides an introduction to the principles of molecular and cellular biology and their connections to biomedicine. We explore how medical syndromes provide insights into biological processes and how biological mechanisms underlie human disease and physiology. Topics range from DNA repair, protein folding and vesicle transport to metabolism, cell migration and cancer. Lectures focus on the experimental evidence for key concepts, and the weekly sections combine a discovery-based laboratory research project with discussions that emphasize problem solving and primary literature.
Prerequisite(s): LPS A or LS 1a, LS 1b recommended.
Meetings: M., W., F., at 10
MCB 292. Cellular Biology, Neurobiology and Developmental Biology
Catalog Number: 4288  View Course Website
Term: Fall Term 2014-2015.
Instructors: Ethan Garner, Venkatesh Murthy, Alexander Schier
Course Level: Primarily for Graduates
Description: The biology of the individual cell lies at the heart of multi-cellular phenomena such as development and neural function. This course will emphasize critical evaluation of the primary literature, experimental design and scientific writing.
Note: Required for first year graduate students in the Molecules, Cells and Organisms (MCO) Training Program.
Meetings: Tu., Th., 10-11:30
MCB 307. Developmental Genetics and Neurobiology
Catalog Number: 8554  View Course Website
Term: Fall Term And Spring Term 2014-2015.
Instructor: Alexander Schier
Course Level: Exclusively for Graduates
NEUROBIO 371. Sensory Neuron Development and Sleep Using Genetics and Live Imaging in Zebrafish.
Catalog Number: 7081  View Course Website
Term: Fall Term And Spring Term 2014-2015.
Instructor: Alexander Schier
Course Level: Exclusively for Graduates
(View all MCB Courses)


Our research addresses two questions:

(i) vertebrate embryogenesis-how do signals, non-coding RNAs, and chromatin influence the fate and movement of cells?

(ii) behavior - how do neuropeptides and neural circuits regulate locomotion, sleep, and learning?

We mainly use zebrafish as a model system, because genetic and imaging approaches can be combined to study complex behaviors and developmental processes in a vertebrate.

1. Vertebrate embryogenesis

The vertebrate body plan is set up during gastrulation, when a ball of undifferentiated, totipotent cells is transformed into an embryo. This process results in the formation of the three germ layers (ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm) and the three axes (anterior-posterior, dorsal-ventral and left-right). We wish to understand how signaling pathways, transcription factors, chromatin modifications and non-coding RNAs regulate this process. We are using genetic, biophysical and in vivo imaging approaches to determine how signals move through fields of cells, elicit concentration dependent effects and modulate the fate and migration of cells. In parallel, we use genomic and genetic approaches to determine how chromatin modifications and non-coding RNAs regulate early development.

2. Behavior

The genetic and cellular mechanisms that control sleep and wake states remain largely elusive. We have established zebrafish as a model system for sleep research. Zebrafish have the basic hallmarks of sleep-like behaviors. Sleeping fish require stronger stimuli than awake fish to initiate movement and sleep deprivation is followed by increased sleep. In addition, the zebrafish brain expresses peptides that have been implicated in human sleep disorders. We are using genetic and pharmacological screens to isolate sleep regulators and use imaging approaches to dissect sleep circuits. More recently, we have begun to develop assays for learning and memory in zebrafish and have used calcium imaging to identify neurons involved in learning.


Woods, I.G., Schoppik, D., Shi, V.J., Zimmerman, S., Coleman, H.A., Greenwood, J., Soucy, E.R., and Schier, A.F. (2014) Neuropeptidergic signaling partitions arousal behaviors in zebrafish. Journal of Neuroscience 34, 3142-60

Pauli, A., Norris, M.L., Valen, E., Chew, G.-L., Gagnon, J.A., Zimmerman, S., Mitchell, A., Ma, J., Dubrulle, J., Reyon, D., Tsai, S.Q., Joung, J.K., Saghatelian, A., and Schier, A.F. (2014). Toddler: an embryonic signal that promotes cell movement via Apelin receptors. Science 343, 1248636

Müller, P., Rogers, K.W., Jordan, B.M., Lee, J.S., Robson, D., Ramanathan, S., and Schier, A.F. (2012). Differential diffusivity of Nodal and Lefty underlies a reaction-diffusion patterning system. Science 336, 721-4.

Pauli, A., Valen, E., Lin, M.F., Garber, M., Vastenhouw, N.L., Levin, J.Z., Fan, L., Sandelin, A., Rinn, J.L., Regev, A., and Schier, A.F. (2012) Systematic identification of long noncoding RNAs expressed during zebrafish embryogenesis. Genome Research 22, 577-91.

Vastenhouw, N.L., Zhang, Y., Woods, I.G., Imam, F., Regev, A., Liu, X.S., Rinn, J., and Schier, A.F. (2010). Chromatin signature of embryonic pluripotency is established during genome activation. Nature 464, 922-6.

Rihel, J., Prober, D., Arvanites, A., Lam, K., Zimmerman, S., Jang, S., Haggarty, S.J., Kokel, D., Rubin, L.L., Peterson, R. T. and Schier, A.F. (2010). Behavioral profiling links drugs to biological targets and the regulation of rest/wake states. Science 15, 348-51.

Choi, W.-Y., Giraldez, A.J. and Schier, A.F. (2007). Target Protectors reveal dampening and balancing of Nodal agonist and antagonist by miR-430. Science 318, 271-274.

Giraldez, A.J., Mishima, Y., Rihel, J., Grocock, R.J., Van Dongen, S., Inoue, K., Enright, A.J. and Schier, A.F. (2006). Zebrafish miR-430 promotes deadenylation and clearance of maternal mRNAs. Science 312, 75-79.

updated: 10/28/2015