Douglas Millay, Ph.D.


The goal of my research is to understand how cells fuse. For two cells to come together as one, they must recognize one another and merge their outer membranes. Such union occurs during fertilization and development, including in skeletal muscle development, when immature muscle precursors join together to form multi-nucleated muscle cells. As a postdoctoral fellow, I discovered a protein that regulates skeletal muscle fusion. This muscle-making protein, when artificially stuck to the surface of non-muscle cells, drives them to fuse with muscle cells-- but not with each other, suggesting that muscle cells must possess some additional signals that drive the process. I will identify the remaining links in this cell-fusion process and will then reconstitute the system using synthetic membranes. This methodology will create new knowledge regarding mechanisms of cell-cell fusion, in addition to providing novel strategies to mitigate muscle disease through cell therapy.

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