David R. McClay

Arthur S. Pearse Distinguished Professor of Biology

4102 French Science Center, Science Dr., Durham, NC 27708
Campus Box: 
Box 90338, Department of Biology, Durham, NC 27708-1000
(919) 613-8188
We ask how the embryo works. Prior to morphogenesis the embryo specifies each cell through transcriptional regulation and signaling. Our research builds gene regulatory networks to understand how that early specification works. We then ask how this specification programs cells for their morphogenetic movements at gastrulation, and how the cells deploy patterning information. Current projects examine 1) novel signal transduction mechanisms that establish and maintain embryonic boundaries mold the embryo at gastrulation; 2) specification of primary mesenchyme cells in such a way that they are prepared to execute an epithelial-mesenchymal transition, and then study mechanistically the regulation of that transition; 3) the specification of endoderm necessary for invagination of the archenteron; 4) formation of the oral/aboral ectoderm and the means by which patterning information is distributed three dimensionally around the embryo. That information is necessary for patterning and inducing skeletogenesis. Other projects examine neural tube folding with the goal of identifying genes associated with neural tube defects. Finally, a large current effort in systems biology is being expended with the goal of enlarging our knowledge of early networks and how they interact.


  • Ph.D., University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill 1971

  • M.S., University of Vermont 1965

  • B.S., Pennsylvania State University 1963

Range, R., T. Glenn, and D. R. McClay. “Lv-Numb promotes Notch-mediated specification of secondary mesenchyme cells in the sea urchin embryo.” Development 135 (December 2008): 2445–54.

Range, Ryan C., Thomas D. Glenn, Esther Miranda, and David R. McClay. “LvNumb works synergistically with Notch signaling to specify non-skeletal mesoderm cells in the sea urchin embryo.Development (Cambridge, England) 135, no. 14 (August 2008): 2445–54. https://doi.org/10.1242/dev.018101. Full Text

Wu, Shu-Yu, Yu-Ping Yang, and David R. McClay. “Twist is an essential regulator of the skeletogenic gene regulatory network in the sea urchin embryo.Developmental Biology 319, no. 2 (July 2008): 406–15. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ydbio.2008.04.003. Full Text

Voronina, Ekaterina, Manuel Lopez, Celina E. Juliano, Eric Gustafson, Jia L. Song, Cassandra Extavour, Sophie George, Paola Oliveri, David McClay, and Gary Wessel. “Vasa protein expression is restricted to the small micromeres of the sea urchin, but is inducible in other lineages early in development.Developmental Biology 314, no. 2 (February 2008): 276–86. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ydbio.2007.11.039. Full Text

Röttinger, Eric, Alexandra Saudemont, Véronique Duboc, Lydia Besnardeau, David McClay, and Thierry Lepage. “FGF signals guide migration of mesenchymal cells, control skeletal morphogenesis [corrected] and regulate gastrulation during sea urchin development.Development (Cambridge, England) 135, no. 2 (January 2008): 353–65. https://doi.org/10.1242/dev.014282. Full Text

Croce, Jenifer C., and David R. McClay. “Evolution of the Wnt pathways.Methods in Molecular Biology (Clifton, N.J.) 469 (January 2008): 3–18. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-60327-469-2_1. Full Text

Wu, Shu-Yu, Michael Ferkowicz, and David R. McClay. “Ingression of primary mesenchyme cells of the sea urchin embryo: a precisely timed epithelial mesenchymal transition.Birth Defects Research. Part C, Embryo Today : Reviews 81, no. 4 (December 2007): 241–52. https://doi.org/10.1002/bdrc.20113. Full Text

Bradham, C. A., and D. R. McClay. “Secondary axis specification in sea urchin embryos.” Signal Transduction 7, no. 2 (May 14, 2007): 181–86. https://doi.org/10.1002/sita.200600121. Full Text

Wu, Shu-Yu, and David R. McClay. “The Snail repressor is required for PMC ingression in the sea urchin embryo.Development (Cambridge, England) 134, no. 6 (March 2007): 1061–70. https://doi.org/10.1242/dev.02805. Full Text


Selected Grants

Genetics Post Doctoral Fellowship awarded by National Institutes of Health (Principal Investigator). 1987 to 1990

The Role of Cell Contacts During Sea Urchin Gastrulation awarded by National Institutes of Health (Principal Investigator). 1988 to 1989

Modulation of Cell Contact Behavior in a Rearranging Epithelium during Gastrulation awarded by National Institutes of Health (Principal Investigator). 1988 to 1989

Cell Surface Molecules in Embryonic Cell Adhesion awarded by National Institutes of Health (Principal Investigator). 1982 to 1988