Sherwood Lab at Duke University 

Cells and tissues are surrounded by extracellular matrix.  Often viewed as a static styrofoam,  studies are beginning to reveal that matrix is remarkably dynamic and plays central roles in development, tissue health and aging.  We use C. elegans and state-of-the art genome editing, genetic, and live imaging techniques to examine the numerous functions and dynamic properties of basement membranes–the most ubiquitous extracellular matrix that enwraps all organs and tissues. Specifically we study:

Breaching basement membranes is the first step in cancer metastasis and we study anchor cell invasion to better understand how cancer cells are invasive. 

Anchor cell invades through the uterine and vulval basement membranes

Basement membranes also regulates stem cell niche formation and function and we study how basement membrane regulates the germ line stem cell niche.

Muscle cells (in green) actively enwrap escaped germ cells (in pink)

Strikingly, we’ve found that a number of basement membrane components dynamically move within the matrix, suggesting they can rapidly convey information and adapt their properties.

Fluorescence recovery after photobleaching show some components move through the matrix

Basement membranes are highly complex and have  specific compositions tailored to meet each tissues needs–we study how basement membranes are constructed and turned over.

Illustration of Basement Membrane Dynamics
Illustration by A. Kawska (info@illuscientia

Basement membranes also connect tissues together, including at the blood brain barrier.  We have developed the first experimental model to examine how basement membranes attach together.

Illustration of the adhesion system between the seam and utse basement membranes.

We also study how basement membranes age, stretch and use C. elegans as a model for new basement membrane therapies. 

More about each project in members’ profiles.