Heather Corbett Etchevers BA (Wellesley) Biology 1992; Ph.D. (U.C. Berkeley) Neurobiology 1998; Doctorat (U. Pierre et Marie Curie) Developmental Biology 1999

Course and current status

1999-2001       Postdoctoral fellow, Institut d'Embryologie Cellulaire et Moléculaire du CNRS et du Collège de France, Nogent-sur-Marne, France

2001-2004       Postdoctoral fellow, INSERM U393, Hôpital Necker – Enfants Malades, Paris, France

2002-2005       « Avenir » startup group leader INSERM U393 (U781 after 2004)

2004-2008      Chargé de recherche class 2 (tenured research scientist), INSERM U781

2008-2010      Chargé de recherche class 1, INSERM U781

2010-              Chargé de recherche class 1, INSERM UMR_S910, Université Aix-Marseille II, Marseille, France

Scientific summary

I study the molecular bases of embryonic development and in particular, how one cell population, the neural crest (NC), makes an incredible variety of tissues around the body. Some of that potential to become pigment cells or neurons, cardiac valves or bone, is intrinsic to the NC cell – the instructions are preprogrammed. Some of the potential is also imposed by the environment in which the cells find themselves, be it spatial or temporal. When NC cells develop wrongly, it leads to a class of diseases that are as varied in their symptoms as the derivatives of the neural crest. These include many common birth defects such as certain congenital heart malformations or cleft lip and palate; some very rare, apparently sporadic malformations such as the large/giant congenital melanocytic nevus (CMN), and a number of pediatric cancers such as neuroblastoma, aggressive pediatric melanomas affecting the central nervous system, or certain vascular malformations.

I have studied the molecular bases of intrinsic and extrinsic cell fate decisions during NC development, in embryos of both humans and animal models, for the last fifteen years. Since my Ph.D., I have closely followed the literature in the development of the melanocyte, a distinctive and late derivative of NC cells, and its niches in the skin, in parallel with my primary studies on the stem cell-like molecular properties of human NC cells. I have participated in discovering and validating the implication of a number of genes in both heritable and sporadic congenital malformation syndromes and will bring this expertise to bear on the discovery of which genes are responsible for the development of large/giant CMN and how they act.

Currently, the research that I supervise fully or in part addresses the physiopathology of diseases caused by mutations in conserved transcription factors or signaling pathways involved in a number of developmental processes: the formation of the outflow tract of the heart, the ocular globe and anterior chamber, the pigmented cells of the skin and neural meninges, and the palate. All of these share a common lineage in the NC cell, justifying continued study of its normal and pathological development in both humans and in animal models.

For more information, please consult our team's website (linked in the lower left corner of this page), and also my former group's site (being updated) or my personal page on LinkedIn.

A couple of review articles I have written have not made it to PubMed; all reprints are available on request by e-mail.

These include:

Etchevers HC, Vincent C, Couly GF (2001) Neural crest and pituitary development. In: Hypothalamic-Pituitary Development: Genetic and Clinical Aspects. R. Rappaport, ed. S. Karger AG, Basel, Switzerland, pp 13-29.

Etchevers HC (2003) Vasculo- and angiogenesis in the head and neck. Rivista di Neuroradiologia 16 : 735-8.

Etchevers HC, Amiel J, Lyonnet S (2006). Molecular bases of human neurocristopathies. In: Neural Crest Induction and Differentiation, ed. J.-P. Saint Jeannet. Landes Biosciences, Georgetown, TX, pp 213-227. ISBN: 1-58706-070-1 (also ISBN: 978-0-387-35136-0 - listed in PubMed as Adv Exp Med Biol. 2006 589:213-34.)

The following review article is in press, and other primary research articles have been submitted as of November, 2011.

Reyes-Mùgica M, Beckwith M, Etchevers HC. (2011) Etiology of congenital melanocytic nevi and related conditions. In: Nevogenesis (Practical Clinical Medicine series) eds. A. Marghoob, J. Grinchik, A. Scope and S. Dusza. Springer, New York.

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