Department of Cell Biology and Physiology


The Department of Cell Biology and Physiology offers two Ph.D. degree programs, one in Cell and Developmental Biology and one in Cell and Molecular Physiology.

Cell and Developmental Biology Graduate Program


James Bear (14) Cell Motility, Actin Cytoskeleton, Coronins, Live-Cell Microscopy

Patrick Brennwald (5) Cell Polarity, Tumor Suppressor, Vesicle Transport, Exocytosis, Rho GTPases

Keith W. T. Burridge (41) Cell Migration, Cell-Matrix and Cell-Cell Adhesion, Rho Family GTPases, Leukocyte Transendothelial Migration

M. Joseph Costello (50) Membrane Biophysics, Intercellular Junctions, Active Transport, Membrane Fusion, Electron Microscopy

Douglas M. Cyr (6) Cystic Fibrosis, Organelle Biogenesis, Protein Folding, Molecular Chaperones, Ubiquitin-Proteasome Pathway

Mohanish P. Deshmukh (3) Neuronal Apoptosis, Molecular Mechanism of Programmed Cell Death, Regulation of Caspase Activation

Kenneth A. Jacobson (39) Membrane Biology and Biophysics, Cell Migration, Video Image Analysis

Royce L. Montgomery (11) Invertebral Disc Lesions and Back Pain

Deborah A. O'Brien (51) Mammalian Spermatogenesis and Fertilization, Regulation of Sperm Motility, Genetics of Male Infertility

Michael G. O'Rand (38) Cell Biology, Immunology, Reproductive Biology

W. Cam Patterson (10) Cardiovascular

Peter Petrusz (13) Neurobiology, Reproductive Biology

Aldo Rustioni (15) Glutamate Receptors Expression and Regulation, Axonal Regeneration and the Cytoskeleton, Somatosensory Mechanisms

Kathleen K. Sulik (40) Developmental Toxicology, Embryology

Ellen R. Weiss (9) Regulatory Domains of G-Protein Coupled Receptors, Molecular Biology of Cellular Signaling Pathways

Associate Professors

Cornelius J. Beckers (12) Signal Transduction, Cell Motility, Cytoskeleton, Infectious Diseases, Cell Biology

Jay E. Brenman (10) Drosophila and Mouse Genetics, Metabolic Signaling, Type 2 Diabetes Therapeutics

Scott Hammond (008) Biochemical Mechanism for RNA Interference

Assistant Professors

Kurt Gilliland (16) Intercellular Junctions, Human Cataract, Electron/Confocal Microscopy

Stephanie Gupton, Coordination of Actin Dynamics and Membrane Trafficking during Development and Cancer Metastasis, Live Cell Imaging, Cell Adhesion

Edward Kernick, Human Anatomy, Neuroanatomy, Central Nervous System

Ben Major, Proteomic Analysis of Signal Transduction and Cell Biology, Oxidative Stress, Functional Genomics, Mass Spectrometry

John Reader, Protein Translation Apparatus, Aminoacyl-tRNA Synthetases, tRNAs

Research Professor

Richard Weinberg (20) Quantitative Immunocytochemistry, Organization of Excitatory Synapses, Calcium Signaling in Dendritic Spines

Research Associate Professors

Shoji Osawa (16) Regulation of Signal Transduction Pathways by G Proteins

Julia Shackelford

Research Assistant Professors

James Alb

Oleg Alekseev

Elizabeth Benson

Alain Burette

Jr-Gang Cheng

Polina Danshina

Martina Gentzch

Gerald W. Gordon

Maryna Kapustina

Scott Parnell

Erika Wittchen


Linda Levitch

Professors Emeriti

Noelle A. Granger

Charles R. Hackenbrock

O'Dell W. Henson Jr.

William E. Koch

Jean M. Lauder

Program of Study

The Department of Cell Biology and Physiology of the School of Medicine offers a program of study leading to the doctor of philosophy degree in Cell and Developmental Biology. The primary purpose of the graduate program is to train students to become biomedical scientists. The program provides training for students whose research/teaching career objectives are faculty positions in medical school basic sciences departments. However, the flexibility of the program also provides for the training of students who seek careers in basic science as well as clinical science departments of medical schools, in other professional schools such as dental schools, in liberal arts academic departments such as biology, or in state, federal, private, and industrial research laboratories. The program for the Ph.D. normally takes five to six years to complete. Persons interested in a combined M.D./Ph.D. program must be accepted into the School of Medicine and the departmental graduate program, whereupon the combined studies are scheduled in accordance with individual requirements.

Some of the department's areas of specialization are cell biology, developmental biology, neurobiology, reproductive biology, membrane biology, molecular biology, cell signaling, and parasitology. Ph.D. students take graduate level courses in their first year as well as conduct laboratory rotations. Students who join the departmental graduate program at the end of year one are examined for advancement to candidacy. Ph.D. candidacy is followed by a dissertation based on original research is conducted under the supervision of a faculty advisor. Additional information is available on the departmental Web site (

Admission Requirements

Admission to the departmental graduate program is via the unified Biological and Biomedical Sciences Program (BBSP) at UNC. A B.A. or B.S. degree is required for admission. Applicants are expected to have a strong background in the biological sciences, chemistry, physics, and mathematics. Details of the application process are available at the BBSP website ( and The Graduate School website ( Briefly, the application should include transcripts, Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores, three letters of recommendation, and a personal statement outlining career goals.

Research Facilities

The department occupies 40,000 square feet of research and office space (in addition to teaching space), primarily in Taylor Hall and the Biomolecular Research Building in the School of Medicine. The department and its research laboratories are a biotechnological resource available for qualified scientists in the University, state, and region. The laboratories house instrumentation for transmission, scanning, and cryo electron microscopy, as well as equipment to prepare biological specimens for these techniques. The Electron Microscope Facility contains a multipurpose JOEL 820 scanning electron microscope and a high-resolution FEI-Philips Tecnai 12 transmission electron microscope. Ancillary facilities include fully equipped darkrooms and equipment for ultramicrotomy, critical point drying, rotary evaporation, sputter coating, and a state-of-the-art, high-resolution Reichert freeze fracture system. A world class facility is available for optical imaging of all kinds, including digitized video microscopy, confocal microscopy, and fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy, two-photon confocal microscopy, nanovid microscopy, and fluorescence recovery after photobleaching.

Assistantships and Other Student Aid

Students are supported by a stipend of $27,500 annually plus tuition, fees, and medical insurance.

Courses for Graduate and Advanced Undergraduate Students


423 Developmental Toxicology and Teratology (TOXC 423) (3). Emphasizes topics of current research interest relative to the genesis of environmentally caused and genetically based birth defects. One two-hour session per week (evening).

607 Gross Anatomy (2–4). Permission of the instructor. Primarily for graduate students. Enrollment by availability of space and material.

610A Advanced Gross Anatomy (4).

610B Advanced Gross Anatomy (3).

627 Regional Anatomy (3). Permission of the instructor. For students of oral surgery, surgical residents, and graduate students.

643 Cell Structure, Function, and Growth Control I (BIOC 643, MCRO 643, PHCO 643, PHYI 643) (3). Required preparation, undergraduate cell biology or biochemistry or permission of the instructor. Comprehensive introduction to cell structure, function, and transformation.

644 Cell Structure, Function, and Growth Control II (BIOC 644, MCRO 644, PHCO 644, PHYI 644) (3). Required preparation, undergraduate cell biology or biochemistry or permission of the instructor. Comprehensive introduction to cell structure, function, and transformation.

Courses for Graduate Students


741 Introduction to Human Anatomy (3).A general course for persons preparing for careers as dental hygienists. Two lectures and two laboratory hours a week.

750 Applied Biostatistics (PATH 750, PHCO 750) (1). See course description for PHCO 750.

791 Gross Anatomy for Physical Therapists (4). Prerequisites, BIOL 276 and 276L. Permission of the instructor. Fundamental principles and concepts of human gross anatomy for physical therapists taught by lectures and cadaver dissection. Emphasis on functional anatomy. Three lecture hours and six laboratory hours a week.

793 Functional Neuroanatomy (3). Prerequisites, CBIO 607 and 791. Permission of the instructor. Study of basic structure of the brain and spinal cord, including both lecture and laboratory. Primarily for physical therapy students. Four hours a week.

805 Gross Anatomy (4). Systematic approach to gross anatomy emphasizing a regional approach stressing head and neck anatomy. Primarily for dental students.

890 Advanced Topics in Cell and Developmental Biology (1–21). Permission of the instructor. Seminar/discussion course dealing with advanced topics in modern cell biology and/or developmental biology. Based mainly on discussion of current literature.

891A Contemporary Problems (3). Permission of the instructor. Analysis of grant proposals dealing with advanced topics in modern cell biology and/or developmental biology.

892B Contemporary Problems (3). Permission of the instructor. Analysis of grant proposals dealing with advanced topics in modern cell biology and/or developmental biology.

893 Cell Biology I (4). Permission of the instructor. Graduate students only. Discussion based course that covers key elements of cell, molecular, and developmental biology, and genetics. Students present and discuss breakthrough primary research papers under the direction of faculty members across the department. Minimal instructor lecturing is included.

894 Cell Biology II (4). Permission of the instructor. Graduate students only. Continuation of CBIO 893. Further topics are covered including cell structure, developmental biology, and cell cycle.

899 Electron Microscopy Principles and Applications (3). Permission of the instructor. Lectures on scanning, transmission, high voltage, freeze fracture, analytical and immunoelectron microscopy. Laboratory training in preparation of biological specimens, operation of scanning and transmission microscopes, and darkroom procedures. Three lecture hours and twelve laboratory hours per week.

910 Research (2–21). Credit to be arranged in individual cases.

915 Research Laboratory Apprenticeship (2). Enrollment in the cell biology and anatomy graduate program required. A course for first- and second-year graduate students in cell biology and anatomy, consisting of a research project of limited scope pursued under the supervision of a faculty member.

993 Master's Research and Thesis (3).

994 Doctoral Research and Dissertation (3).