Aaron DiAntonio, MD, PhD

Alan A and Edith L Wolff Professor of Developmental Biology

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Research interests

Our laboratory investigates molecular mechanisms that control the structure and function of neural circuits in development and disease. We combine genetic, molecular, neuroanatomical, and electrophysiological studies in both Drosophila and mouse to identify pathways required for the development, maintenance and regeneration of axons and synapses. Our studies focus on three major areas:

  1. Axonal degeneration in disease: Axonal degeneration is a common feature of many neurological diseases including hereditary neuropathies, diabetes, glaucoma, chemotherapy-induced neurotoxicity, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Axonal degeneration is an active process of self-destruction that appears to be naturally primed and waiting for a triggering stimulus that activates the execution phase. We identified the DLK/JNK MAP kinase pathway as the first intrinsic neuronal pathway that promotes axonal degeneration following injury. We are using genome-wide screens in both Drosophila and mice to identify the molecular mechanisms driving axonal degeneration. Identifying and characterizing components of the intrinsic axonal degeneration pathway has identified potential therapeutic targets for the many neurological diseases characterized by axonal degeneration.
  2. Axonal regeneration in response to injury: Neuronal repair is greatly impaired by the failure of adult CNS neurons to regenerate axons lost to injury or disease. Remarkably, a prior preconditioning injury can activate an axonal growth program and promote axonal regeneration. We have recently demonstrated that the MAPKKK DLK is a key trigger that induces this preconditioning response. We are investigating the mechanisms by which this regenerative growth program can be activated in order to promote neuronal repair. Finally, we are using high-content automated screening approaches to undertake large-scale drug and RNAi screens in order to identify novel therapeutic candidates that induce axonal regeneration.
  3. Synaptic function: A neurotransmitter is released from the presynaptic cell at specialized sites called active zones. Efficient synaptic transmission requires that active zones contain a normal complement of proteins, and that these specialized release sites be apposed to postsynaptic clusters of neurotransmitter receptor. Little is known of the molecular mechanisms that regulate the protein composition of active zones and ensure the alignment of neurotransmitter release and reception machinery. Using large-scale genetic screens in Drosophila we are uncovering the molecular mechanisms that form and maintain the active zone/receptor cluster dyad.
Back row: John Palucki, Hailun Li, Aaron DiAntonio, Lorenzo Lones

Middle Row: Eddy Brace, Xiaolou Sun, Sylvia Johnson, Margaret Hayne

Front Row: Matt Figley, Alex Russo, Kwang Woo Ko

Education and Training

Professor of Department of Developmental Biology, Washington University School of Medicine, 2010-present

Associate Professor Department of Developmental Biology, Washington University School of Medicine, 2005-present

Assistant Professor Department of Developmental Biology, Washington University School of Medicine, 1999-2005

Postdoctoral Fellow University of California at Berkeley, Department of Molecular and Cell Biology, 1995-1999. Postdoctoral Advisor: Dr. Corey Goodman

Ph.D. Stanford University School of Medicine, Department of Molecular and Cellular Physiology, 1989-1995. Thesis Advisor: Dr. Thomas Schwarz

M.D. Stanford University School of Medicine, 1989-1995

M. Phil. Cambridge University, Biochemistry, 1989

A.B. Harvard University, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 1984-1988

Honors and Awards

AAAS Fellow, American Academy for the Advancement of Science, 2020

Javits Neuroscience Award, NIH, 2020

Alan A. and Edith L. Wolff Professor of Developmental Biology, 2014

Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award, Graduate Senate, Washington University, 2011

Outstanding Faculty Mentor Award, Postdoctoral Society, Washington University, 2008

Keck Distinguished Young Scholar, 2002-2007

McKnight Scholar Award, 2002-2004

Sloan Research Fellow, 2001-2003

Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr. Foundation Award, 2000-2003

Whitehall Foundation Award, 2000-2003

Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Faculty Development Award, 2000-2002

McDonnell Center Grant, 2000-2001

Burroughs Wellcome Career Award in the Biomedical Sciences, 1998-2003

Helen Hay Whitney Fellow 1996-1998

Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Fellow, 1996

Medical Scientist Training Program Fellow, 1989-1995

Hershel Smith Harvard Scholarship, Harvard College, 1988

Phi Beta Kappa, Harvard College, 1988

Selected publications

See a complete list of Dr. DiAntonio’s publications »