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

Bradham, Cynthia A., and David R. McClay. “p38 MAPK is essential for secondary axis specification and patterning in sea urchin embryos.Development (Cambridge, England) 133, no. 1 (January 2006): 21–32. https://doi.org/10.1242/dev.02160. Full Text

Deak, Kristen L., Abee L. Boyles, Heather C. Etchevers, Elizabeth C. Melvin, Deborah G. Siegel, Felicia L. Graham, Susan H. Slifer, et al. “SNPs in the neural cell adhesion molecule 1 gene (NCAM1) may be associated with human neural tube defects.Hum Genet 117, no. 2–3 (July 2005): 133–42. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00439-005-1299-7. Full Text

Peterson, Robert E., and David R. McClay. “A Fringe-modified Notch signal affects specification of mesoderm and endoderm in the sea urchin embryo.Developmental Biology 282, no. 1 (June 2005): 126–37. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ydbio.2005.02.033. Full Text

Otim, Ochan, Gabriele Amore, Takuya Minokawa, David R. McClay, and Eric H. Davidson. “SpHnf6, a transcription factor that executes multiple functions in sea urchin embryogenesis.Developmental Biology 273, no. 2 (September 2004): 226–43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ydbio.2004.05.033. Full Text

Wikramanayake, Athula H., Robert Peterson, Jing Chen, Ling Huang, Joanna M. Bince, David R. McClay, and William H. Klein. “Nuclear beta-catenin-dependent Wnt8 signaling in vegetal cells of the early sea urchin embryo regulates gastrulation and differentiation of endoderm and mesodermal cell lineages.Genesis (New York, N.Y. : 2000) 39, no. 3 (July 2004): 194–205. https://doi.org/10.1002/gene.20045. Full Text

Bradham, C. A., E. L. Miranda, and D. R. McClay. “PI3K inhibitors block skeletogenesis but not patterning in sea urchin embryos.Developmental Dynamics : An Official Publication of the American Association of Anatomists 229, no. 4 (April 2004): 713–21. https://doi.org/10.1002/dvdy.10470. Full Text

Bradham, C. A., E. Miranda, and D. R. McClay. “PI3K Activity is Required for Skeletogenesis in Sea Urchin Embryos.Dev Dyn 229 (2004): 713–21.

McClay, D. R. “Methods for embryo dissociation and for studying cell associations using sea urchin material.” Methods of Cell Biology 74 (2004): 311–29.

Wikramanayake, A. H., R. Peterson, J. Chen, L. Huang, D. R. McClay, and W. H. Klein. “Selective expression of Wnt8 in vegetal cells of the early sea urchin embryo mediates endomesoderm specification in a nuclear beta-catenin-dependent manner.” Genesis 39 (2004): 194–205.