Jonathon Howard, Ph.D.

Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry
Yale University
266 Whitney Ave
City, State, Zip
New Haven, CT 06520-8114
(203) 928-9972
Research Field
Cell Biology
Award Year


My laboratory is interested in the biochemical and biophysical basis of cell shape and motion. The shape of a cell is determined primarily by its cytoskeleton, which serves as a scaffold to support the plasma membrane and internal organelles. The cytoskeleton also serves as a network of tracks along which motor proteins transport subcellular structures. The research is therefore focused on the mechanics of the cytoskeleton, with a particular emphasis on microtubules and microtubule-based motor proteins. On the one hand, the laboratory is interested in the mechanisms by which these proteins work: i.e. how do kinesins and dyneins act as molecular machines to convert chemical energy derived from the hydrolysis of ATP into mechanical work used to move along or to depolymerize microtubules? And on the other hand, it is interested in the roles that microtubules and their motors play in cell morphology and motility. For example, how do the dynamic properties of microtubules drive spindle and chromosome movements in mitosis, and how does dynein drive axonemal motility? What roles do microtubules and their motors play in mechanoreception in sensory cells and in determining the shapes of cells? Our approach to understanding the self-organization of molecules into organelles and cells is to characterize the interactions between the individual motor and cytoskeletal molecules in vitro using single-molecule techniques. These interactions constitute a form of mechanical signaling. We use theory to predict how the interactions lead to the collective behavior of ensembles of molecules, and then to test these predictions with in vivo experiments.