Debra Lynn Silver
Debra Lynn Silver

Debra Lynn Silver

Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology

Overview

How is the brain assembled and sculpted during embryonic development?  Addressing this question has enormous implications for understanding neurodevelopmental disorders affecting brain size and function. In evolutionary terms, our newest brain structure is the cerebral cortex, which drives higher cognitive capacities. The overall mission of my research lab is to elucidate genetic and cellular mechanisms controlling cortical development and contributing to neurodevelopmental pathologies and brain evolution. We study neural progenitors, essential cells which generate neurons and are the root of brain development. We are guided by the premise that the same mechanisms at play during normal development were co-opted during evolution and when dysregulated, can cause neurodevelopmental disease.

My research program employs a multifaceted strategy to bridge developmental neurobiology, RNA biology, and evolution. 1) We investigate how cell fates are specified, by studying how progenitor divisions influence development and disease.  2) We study diverse layers of post-transcriptional regulation in neural progenitors. We investigate RNA binding proteins implicated in development and neurological disease. Using live imaging, we also investigate how sub-cellular control of mRNA localization and translation influences neural progenitors. 3) A parallel research focus is to understand how human-specific genetic changes influence species-specific brain development. Our goal is to integrate our efforts across these three major lines of research to understand the intricacies controlling brain development.

Positions

Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology in the School of Medicine

2024 School of Medicine

Co-Vice Chair in the Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology in the School of Medicine

2024 School of Medicine

Professor in Cell Biology in the School of Medicine

2024 School of Medicine

Professor of Neurobiology in the School of Medicine

2024 School of Medicine

Affiliate of the Duke Regeneration Center in the School of Medicine

2021 School of Medicine

Associate of the Duke Initiative for Science & Society in the University Initiatives & Academic Support Units

2017 University Initiatives & Academic Support Units

Investigator in the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences in the University Institutes and Centers

2010 University Institutes and Centers

Member of the Duke Cancer Institute in the School of Medicine

2010 School of Medicine

Education

B.S. 1993

1993 Tufts University

Ph.D. 2003

2003 Johns Hopkins University

Postdoctoral Fellowship, NATIONAL HUMAN GENOME RESEARCH INSTITUTE

2010 National Institutes of Health

Publications, Grants & Awards