Research Overview

The goal of the Heiman lab is to understand how cells get their shapes and assemble into organs. Defects in this process lead to structural birth defects. We are using forward genetic approaches in C. elegans to identify the genes that give individual cells their characteristic shapes and that specify defined cell-cell contacts.

Laboratory Projects

  1. Dendrite length: Using forward genetic screens, we have identified two distinct mechanisms by which sensory dendrites attain the right lengths. Surprisingly, both mechanisms involve an “anchorand- stretch” process in which dendritic endings anchor to defined sites on neighboring glial partners and then undergo mechanical pulling to reach their final lengths.

  2. Selective attraction and repulsion: A major organizing force in the nervous system is selective attraction and repulsion between neurons. We are identifying cell-surface adhesion molecules that mediate selective bundling (fasciculation) of dendrites. We have also shown how contact-mediated repulsion between dendrites can give rise to complex emergent patterning.

  3. Glial diversity: Glial cells adopt a diverse array of morphologies, presumably corresponding to diverse molecular and cellular functions. Although mechanisms that give rise to neuronal diversity are well characterized, we know relatively little about how different glial cell fates are specified. We are identifying transcriptional regulators that activate or repress the fate of specific glial subtypes.

About Maxwell G. Heiman

Dr. Heiman received his Ph.D. from UCSF (1997-2003), where he workedwith Dr. Peter Walter and identified the first genes shown to be required forcell-cell fusion during yeast mating. He received his postdoctoral training at Rockefeller University (2003-2011) with Dr. Shai Shaham, where he studied the genetic control of cell shape using the sensory neurons and glia of C.elegans as a model system. In 2011, he started his own research group jointly between the Division of Genetics at Boston Children’s Hospital and the Department of Genetics at Harvard Medical School. He has been an HHMI predoctoral fellow, a Jane Coffin Childs postdoctoral fellow, and a March of Dimes Basil O’Connor Scholar, and he is the recipient of an unnamed chair in Genetics at Boston Children’s Hospital. He is currently an Assistant Professor of Genetics and Pediatrics.

Selected Publications

Yip Z. C. and Heiman M. G. (2016) Duplication of a single neuron in C. elegans reveals a pathway for dendrite tiling by mutual repulsion. Cell Reports. 15:2109-2117.

Gilleland C. L., Falls A. T., Noraky J., Heiman M. G.*, Yanik M.F.* (2015) Computer-assisted transgenesis of Caenorhabditis elegans for deep phenotyping. Genetics. 201: 39-46. *, co-corresponding.

Heiman M. G. and Shaham S. (2009) DEX-1 and DYF-7 establish sensory dendrite length by anchoring dendritic tips during cell migration. Cell. 137: 344-355.

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Researcher Areas

  • Genetics

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PUBLICATIONS

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  1. McLachlan IG, Beets I, de Bono M, Heiman MG. A neuronal MAP kinase constrains growth of a Caenorhabditis elegans sensory dendrite throughout the life of the organism. PLoS Genet. 2018 06; 14(6):e1007435. View abstract
  2. Lamkin ER, Heiman MG. Coordinated morphogenesis of neurons and glia. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2017 Dec; 47:58-64. View abstract
  3. Nechipurenko IV, Olivier-Mason A, Kazatskaya A, Kennedy J, McLachlan IG, Heiman MG, Blacque OE, Sengupta P. A Conserved Role for Girdin in Basal Body Positioning and Ciliogenesis. Dev Cell. 2016 09 12; 38(5):493-506. View abstract
  4. Yip ZC, Heiman MG. Duplication of a Single Neuron in C. elegans Reveals a Pathway for Dendrite Tiling by Mutual Repulsion. Cell Rep. 2016 06 07; 15(10):2109-2117. View abstract
  5. Gilleland CL, Falls AT, Noraky J, Heiman MG, Yanik MF. Computer-Assisted Transgenesis of Caenorhabditis elegans for Deep Phenotyping. Genetics. 2015 Sep; 201(1):39-46. View abstract
  6. Kelley M, Yochem J, Krieg M, Calixto A, Heiman MG, Kuzmanov A, Meli V, Chalfie M, Goodman MB, Shaham S, Frand A, Fay DS. FBN-1, a fibrillin-related protein, is required for resistance of the epidermis to mechanical deformation during C. elegans embryogenesis. Elife. 2015 Mar 23; 4. View abstract
  7. Mizeracka K, Heiman MG. The many glia of a tiny nematode: studying glial diversity using Caenorhabditis elegans. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Dev Biol. 2015 Mar-Apr; 4(2):151-60. View abstract
  8. McLachlan IG, Heiman MG. Shaping dendrites with machinery borrowed from epithelia. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2013 Dec; 23(6):1005-10. View abstract
  9. Heiman MG, Pallanck L. Neurons at the extremes of cell biology. Mol Biol Cell. 2011 Mar 15; 22(6):721. View abstract
  10. Aguilar PS, Heiman MG, Walther TC, Engel A, Schwudke D, Gushwa N, Kurzchalia T, Walter P. Structure of sterol aliphatic chains affects yeast cell shape and cell fusion during mating. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Mar 02; 107(9):4170-5. View abstract
  11. Heiman MG, Shaham S. Twigs into branches: how a filopodium becomes a dendrite. Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2010 Feb; 20(1):86-91. View abstract
  12. Heiman MG, Shaham S. DEX-1 and DYF-7 establish sensory dendrite length by anchoring dendritic tips during cell migration. Cell. 2009 Apr 17; 137(2):344-55. View abstract
  13. Heiman MG, Shaham S. Ancestral roles of glia suggested by the nervous system of Caenorhabditis elegans. Neuron Glia Biol. 2007 Feb; 3(1):55-61. View abstract
  14. Heiman MG, Engel A, Walter P. The Golgi-resident protease Kex2 acts in conjunction with Prm1 to facilitate cell fusion during yeast mating. J Cell Biol. 2007 Jan 15; 176(2):209-22. View abstract
  15. Heiman MG, Walter P. Prm1p, a pheromone-regulated multispanning membrane protein, facilitates plasma membrane fusion during yeast mating. J Cell Biol. 2000 Oct 30; 151(3):719-30. View abstract