Paul Kulesa Berthiaume Family Professor of Neuroscience

Developmental Neuroscience and the Neural Crest
Paul Kulesa

Research Interests 

A common feature of vertebrate development is that cells are born in one place then migrate and differentiate before connecting with a vital target in a different location. One striking example of this are the neural crest, a highly migratory and multipotent cell population that contribute to formation of the face, heart and peripheral nervous system and are the cell type of origin for aggressive neuroblastoma and melanoma. Despite their critical importance to vertebrate development and cancer, we still lack basic knowledge of the molecular mechanisms that underlie neural crest cell migration and how mistakes lead to human birth defects and disease.

The long-term objectives of the Kulesa laboratory are to understand the mechanisms underlying the bi-directional communication between neural crest cells and their microenvironment(s) during vertebrate embryonic development, leveraging innovations in in vivo imaging, spatial transcriptomics, and computational modeling to better understand and inform the repair of neural crest-related birth defects and prediction and control of neural crest-derived cancers.



  • Berthiaume Family Professor of Neuroscience  2022- present
  • Professor and Director of Imaging, Stowers Institute for Medical Research 2003-2022 
  • Sloan and Burroughs Wellcome Foundation Postdoctoral Scholar, CalTech 1995-2003
  • Ph.D., Applied Mathematics, University of Washington 1995
  • B.S., Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, University of Notre Dame 1984


Selected Publications

  • Martinson WD, McLennan R, Teddy JM, McKinney MC, Davidson LA, Baker RE, Byrne HM, Kulesa PM, Maini PK. (2023). Dynamic fibronectin assembly and remodeling by leader neural crest cells prevents jamming in collective cell migration. Elife 12:e83792. doi: 10.7554/eLife.83792. PMID: 37073859.
  • Kasemeier-Kulesa JC, Morrison JA, McKinney S, Li H, Gogol M, Hall K, Chen S, Wang Y, Perera A, McLennan R, Kulesa PM. (2023). Cell-type profiling of the sympathetic nervous system using spatial transcriptomics and spatial mapping of mRNA. Dev Dyn 252(8): 1130-1142. doi: 10.1002/dvdy.577. PMID: 36840366.
  • McLennan R, Giniunaite R, Hildebrand K, Teddy JM, Kasemeier-Kulesa JC, Bolanos L, Baker RE, Maini PK, Kulesa PM. (2023). COLEC12 and TRAIL signaling confine cranial neural crest cell trajectories and promote collective cell migration. Dev Dyn. Online ahead of print. PMID: 36692868.
  • Morrison JA, McLennan R, Teddy JM, Hall KE, Kasemeier-Kulesa JC, Gogol MM, Kulesa PM. (2021). Single-cell reconstruction with spatial context of migrating neural crest cells and their microenvironments during vertebrate head and neck formation. Development 148(22). PMID: 35020873.
  • Kasemeier-Kulesa JC, Spengler JA, Stubblefield C, Morrison JA, Woolley T, Schnell S, Kulesa PM. (2021). Neuroblastoma invasion is regulated through TrkB signaling and responsive to embryonic guidance signals. Dev Biol 480: 78-90. PMID: 34416224.
  • McKinney MC, McLennan R, Giniunaite R, Baker RE, Maini PK, Othmer HG, Kulesa PM. (2020). Visualizing mesoderm and neural crest cell dynamics during chick head morphogenesis. Developmental Biology. May 15; 461(2): 184-196. PMID: 32084354.
  • McLennan R, McKinney MC, Teddy JM, Morrison JA, Kasemeier-Kulesa JC, Ridenour DA, Manthe CA, Giniunaite R, Robinson M, Baker RE, Maini PK, Kulesa PM. (2020). Neural crest cells bulldoze through the microenvironment using Aquaporin1 to stabilize filopodia. Development. Jan 9;147(1). pii: dev185231. doi: 10.1242/dev.185231. In Research Highlights. PMID: 31826865
  • Giniūnaitė R, Baker RE, Kulesa PM, Maini PK. (2019).  Modelling collective cell migration: neural crest as a model paradigm. J Math Biol. 2019 Oct 5. doi: 10.1007/s00285-019-01436-2. PMID: 31587096.
  • Kasemeier-Kulesa JC, Schnell S, Woolley T, Spengler JA, Morrison JA, McKinney MC, Pushel I, Wolfe LA, Kulesa PM (2018). Predicting neuroblastoma using developmental signals and a logic-based model. Biophys Chem. Jul; 238: 30-38. PMID: 29734136. Featured in ‘Science Daily’ 6 July, 2018.
  • Kasemeier-Kulesa JC, Kulesa PM (2018). The convergent roles of CD271/p75 in neural crest-derived melanoma plasticity. Dev Biol. Apr 13. PMID: 29660313.
  • Kasemeier-Kulesa JC, Romine MH, Morrison JA, Bailey CM, Welch DR, Kulesa PM (2018). NGF reprograms metastatic melanoma to a bipotent glial-melanocyte neural crest-like precursor. Biol Open. Jan 11; 7(1). PMID: 29175861.
  • Morrison, JA, McLennan, R, Wolfe, LA, Gogol, MM, Meier, S, McKinney, MC, Teddy, JM, Blunk, L, Semerad, CL, Box, AC, Li, H, Hall, KE, Perera, AG, and Kulesa, PM (2017). Single-cell transcriptome analysis of avian neural crest migration reveals signatures of invasion and molecular transition. eLife.  PMID: 291999959. Featured in the Stowers Report.
  • McLennan, R, Bailey, CM, Schumacher, LJ, Teddy, JM, Morrison, JA, Kasemeier-Kulesa, JC, Wolfe, LA, Gogol, MM, Baker, RE, Maini, PK, and Kulesa, PM (2017). DAN (NBL1) promotes collective neural crest migration by restraining uncontrolled invasion. Journal of Cell Biology. PMID: 28811280.