Aaron N. Johnson, PhD

Assistant Professor of Developmental Biology

Research interests

An essential research priority in the field of developmental and regenerative biology is to understand how morphogens regulate cell form and function during tissue morphogenesis. Although morphogens have been studied for decades, the mechanisms by which extracellular signals govern cell shape changes during organogenesis remain poorly understood. In addition, a number of congenital diseases are thought to arise from defects in organ development. To close this knowledge gap, we are using skeletal muscle development as a model to characterize the molecules and mechanisms that govern post-mitotic tissue morphogenesis.

Skeletal muscle is largely comprised of a single cell type, the myofiber, yet skeletal muscles develop in a variety of shapes and sizes. This simple yet robust system has provided a unique platform to investigate how specific signal transduction pathways, including the FGF, Notch, WNT and Hippo pathways dictate muscle morphology. We have also used our system to characterize novel developmental functions for alleles associated with congenital myopathies. This high-resolution framework has provided new insights into the mechanisms that regulate cell form and function during organogenesis, and has uncovered novel etiologies associated with congenital disease.

Yingqiu Du, Shuo Yang, Aaron Johnson, Alli Weske

Education and Training

Arizona State University
Ph.D. Biology (Developmental Genetics), August 2006.

Arizona State University
B.S. Biology, August 1998 (Summa cum laude).

Honors and Awards

Cellular and molecular mechanisms of myotube pathfinding
1R01AR070299-01, National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases
Sept 2016-Aug 2021 ($1,100,000)

Myofiber guidance: a new path toward understanding congenital myopathies
Webb-Waring Biomedical Research Award, Boettcher Foundation
July 2015-July 2018 ($225,000)

The genetic causes of a broken heart
ORS Large Grant Award, University of Colorado, Denver
July 2015-July 2016 ($12,000)

RNA binding proteins regulate striated muscle development
12SDG12030160, American Heart Association
July 2012-July 2016, ($303,000)

Colorado Drosophila Meetings
Research Mentor Program Award, University of Colorado, Denver
Oct 2012-Sept 2014, ($3000)

Novel regulators of cardiogenesis
Ruth L. Kirchstein National Research Service Award, National Institutes of Health
Dec 2008-May 2010 ($81,000)

Selected publications