Jocelyn McDonald, Associate Professor

Jocelyn McDonald

Contact information

239B Chalmers Hall

Lab website:


Ph.D. 1998, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Cell and Developmental Biology.

Area(s) of Specialization

Developmental and cell biology; cell migration; tissue morphogenesis.

Research Focus

The overall interest of my laboratory is to understand how cell migration is regulated within the normal three-dimensional environment of tissues. We are particularly interested in a type of migration called "collective" migration, in which small to large groups of cells coordinate and move together. Cells move collectively during normal physiological processes, such as during embryonic development and wound healing, whereas abnormal collective migration contributes to birth defects, tumor metastasis in cancer, failure of wounds to heal, and other disease pathologies. Therefore, it is of fundamental medical importance to identify the genetic, cellular, and molecular mechanisms that control this type of cell movement.

My laboratory primarily uses border cells, a model of collective cell migration in tissues. These six to 10 cells move as a cohesive group during development of the ovary in the model organism Drosophila melanogaster (the fruit fly). The variety of sophisticated genetic and molecular tools in Drosophila allow us to identify new genes that control movement of border cells. Many of these genes have counterparts in humans, and the ultimate goal of the lab is to determine whether the genes identified in Drosophila also regulate human cell migration in pathological contexts.

We use a combination of live imaging, genetics and cell biological approaches to uncover mechanisms that control multicellular collective cell migration. Ongoing interests in the lab include: how groups of cells break away from epithelia to become migratory; how individual cells adhere together and become coordinated to produce group movement; and interplay of cell polarity and cytoskeletal regulatory proteins in collective migration. Finally, we have an ongoing collaboration with investigators at the Cleveland Clinic to apply our findings in the Drosophila border cell model to tumor invasion, particularly in glioblastoma.

Selected Publications

Messer CL, McDonald JA. 2023. Rap1 promotes epithelial integrity and cell viability in a growing tissue. Dev Biol. 2023 Sep;501:1-19. doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2023.05.006. PMID: 37269969.

Messer CL, McDonald JA. 2023. Expect the unexpected: conventional and unconventional roles for cadherins in collective cell migration. Biochem Soc Trans. 2023 Aug 31;51(4):1495-1504. doi: 10.1042/BST20221202. PMID: 37387360

Kotian N, Troike KM, Curran KN, Lathia JD, McDonald JA. 2022. A Drosophila RNAi screen reveals conserved glioblastoma-related adhesion genes that regulate collective cell migration. G3 (Bethesda). 2022 Jan 4;12(1):jkab356. doi: 10.1093/g3journal/jkab356. PMID: 34849760

Chen Y, Kotian N, Aranjuez G, Chen L, Messer CL, Burtscher A, Sawant K, Ramel D, Wang X, McDonald JA. 2020. Protein phosphatase 1 activity controls a balance between collective and single cell modes of migration. Elife 9:e52979. doi: 10.7554/eLife.52979. PMID: 32369438.

Volovetz J, Berezovsky AD, Alban T, Chen Y, Lauko A, Aranjuez GF, Burtscher A, Shibuya K, Silver DJ, Peterson J, Manor D, McDonald JA, Lathia JD. 2020. Identifying conserved molecular targets required for cell migration of glioblastoma cancer stem cells. Cell Death Dis. 11(2):152. doi: 10.1038/s41419-020-2342-2. PMID: 32102991.

Sawant K, Chen Y, Kotian N, Preuss KM, McDonald JA. 2018. Rap1 GTPase promotes coordinated collective cell migration in vivo. Mol Biol Cell. 2018 Nov 1; 29(22):2656-2673. doi: 10.1091/mbc.E17-12-0752. Epub 2018 Aug 29. PMID: 30156466.

View the complete publication list in NCBI