S. Kerry Kornfeld, MD, PhD

Professor of Developmental Biology

Research interests

Our research addresses two areas—organismal aging and the biology of metals during growth and development. Our studies of metals focus on zinc, which is essential for all life. To investigate zinc biology, we combine genetic analysis of C. elegans with biochemical analysis of purified proteins. Because zinc homeostasis pathways have been extensively conserved, we can translate discoveries made in worms into mammalian systems. We have identified a family of zinc transport proteins (CDF) that mediate high zinc homeostasis by sequestering zinc in lysosomes or excreting zinc out of the animal. These transporters are regulated by a zinc sensing transcription factor in the nuclear receptor family that we recently identified in a genetic screen. Low zinc homeostasis is mediated by a second family of transporters (ZIP) that import zinc into the cytoplasm. We are characterizing the transcriptional control of these transporters by low zinc. We discovered that one ZIP transporter mediates zinc signaling during sperm activation. We hope to understand how animals sense both high and low zinc and maintain homeostasis, and how zinc is used as a second messenger to transmit information during sperm activation.

The progressive, degenerative changes that occur as animals age are of fundamental importance, yet poorly understood. C. elegans is well suited for investigating aging, since it has a short life span of ~18 days. We have characterized phenotypic changes that occur as worms age, and we have identified a class of anticonvulsant drugs and a hypertension medicine that delay age-related degeneration. We hope to define regulatory circuits that control aging and develop therapies that delay aging.

Lab website

Back row: Brian Earley, Kerry Kornfeld, Ciro Alberto cubillas, Brian Egan

Front row: Xavier Anderson, Chieh-Hsiang Tan, Andrea Sharf, Adelita Mendoza

Education and Professional Experience

B.A., Yale University, Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry,1980 – 1984.

Ph.D., Department of Biochemistry, Stanford University School of Medicine, 1984 – 1991. Thesis advisor: David S. Hogness. Thesis topic: Function of the ultrabithorax homeotic gene during Drosophila development

M.D., Stanford University School of Medicine, 1984 – 1991

Postdoctoral fellow, Department of Biology, M.I.T., 1991 – 1995. Postdoctoral advisor: H. Robert Horvitz. Research topic: Cell fate specification during C. elegans vulval development .

Assistant Professor, Department of Developmental Biology, Washington University School of Medicine, 1995 – 2002.

Associate Professor, Department of Developmental Biology, Washinton University School of Medicine, 2002 – 2008

Professor, Department of Developmental Biology, Washington University School of Medicine, 2008 – present.

Honors and Awards

Medical Scientist Training Program Award, 1984 – 1991

Damon Runyan-Walter Winchell Postdoctoral Fellowship, 1991 – 1994

Leukemia Society of America Special Fellow Award, 1994 – 1997

Edward Mallinckrodt, Jr. Foundation Award, 1996 – 1999

Burroughs Wellcome Fund New Investigator Award in the Basic Pharmacological Sciences, 1998 – 2001

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society Scholar Award, 2001 – 2006

Ellison Medical Foundation Senior Scholar Award, 2006 – 2010

Distinguished Educator Award, Washington University School of Medicine, 2014

Selected publications

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