Karen Symes

Associate Professor
Assistant Dean of Student Affairs

Boston University School of Medicine
Silvio Conte Building, K408
72 E. Concord Street
Boston, MA 02118

Phone (Mon, Tue, Thurs): 617-638-4077
Phone (Wed, Fri): 617-638-4196
Lab Phone:
Email: symes@bu.edu


BSc, (HONS) University of Sussex, Brighton, UK
PhD, National Institute for Medical Research, Mill Hill, London, UK

Research Interests

Our major goal is to determine the molecular mechanisms that control cell movements using Xenopus embryos as a model system.  We are identifying molecules that control normal cell movement in order to understand how mechanisms go awry and lead to aberrant cell movement in pathological conditions including certain birth defects and cancer metastasis.  Using a wide range of techniques in developmental biology, molecular biology, and confocal microscopy, our current efforts are aimed at analyzing the role of platelet-derived growth factor in that process including its downstream signaling, interaction with the extracellular matrix and control of cytoskeleton reorganization.

A second area of research in the laboratory explores a problem central to both adults and embryos, the regulation of tissue homeostasis. In the adult, approximately one hundred thousand cells are produced every second by mitosis, and a similar number die by apoptosis. Alterations in this balance are thought to result in a variety of pathological conditions including cancer, as well as heart and neurodegenerative diseases. In the embryo, these processes play critical roles in coordinating the rate of development of different tissues and organs, and their disruption has severe consequences. Using Xenopus embryos as a model, we are exploring the mechanisms that initiate and execute apoptosis in the development of the notochord, a tissue that acts both as a as a primitive skeleton and as a signaling center that provides position and fate information for all three germ layers.

Research Themes


Representative Publications


  • SHP-2/PTPN11 mediates gliomagenesis driven by PDGFRA and INK4A/ARF aberrations in mice and humans. Liu KW, Feng H, Bachoo R, Kazlauskas A, Smith EM, Symes K, Hamilton RL, Nagane M, Nishikawa R, Hu B, Cheng SY. J Clin Invest. 2011 Mar;121(3):905-17. doi: 10.1172/JCI43690.
  • Sweet cues: How heparan sulfate modification of fibronectin enables growth factor guided migration of embryonic cells. Symes K, Smith EM, Mitsi M, Nugent MA.Cell Adh Migr. 2010 Oct-Dec;4(4):507-10.
  • Smith, E.M., Mitsi, M., Nugent, M.A., and Symes, K. (2009). PDGF-A Interactions With Fibronectin Reveal A Critical Role For Heparan Sulfate In Directed Cell Migration During Xenopus Gastrulation, Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. 106:21683-21688; Epub Dec 4, 2009.
  • Wu, H., Symes. K., Seldin, D.C., and Dominguez, I. (2009). Threonine residue 393 regulates β-catenin interaction with axin. J. Cell Biochem. 108, 52-63.
  • Malikova, M.A., Van Stry, M. and Symes, K. (2007). Apoptosis regulates notochord development in Xenopus. Dev. Biol. 311, 434–448.
  • Ren, R., Nagel, M. Tahinci, E. Winklbauer, R. and Symes, K. (2006). Migrating anterior mesoderm cells and intercalating axial mesoderm cells have distinct responses to Rho and Rac during Xenopus gastrulation. Dev. Dyn. 235, 1090-1099.
  • Van Stry, M., Kazlauskas, A., Schreiber, S.L., and Symes, K. (2005). Distinct Effectors Of PDGFR? Signaling Are Required For Cell Survival During Embryogenesis. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci, 102, 8233-8238.
  • Van Stry, M., McLaughlin, K.A., Ataliotis, P. and Symes, K. (2004). The mitochondrial-apoptotic pathway is triggered in Xenopus mesoderm cells deprived of PDGF receptor signaling during gastrulation. Dev. Biol. 268, 232-242.
  • Nagel, T., Tahinci, E., Symes, K. and Winklbauer, R. (2004). Platelet derived growth factor signaling controls the directed migration of head mesoderm cells in Xenopus laevis embryos. Development 131, 2727-2736.
  • Tahinci, E. and Symes, K. (2003) Distinct functions of Rho and Rac are required for convergent extension during Xenopus gastrulation. Dev. Biol. 259, 318-335