Virginia E. Papaioannou, PhD

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My laboratory, which closed in 2017 due to my retirement, had a long-standing interest in the genetic control of early mammalian development, from the first cleavage of the fertilized zygote through implantation, gastrulation, and early organogenesis. We have used a variety of approaches to study the determination of cell lineages and the interactions of the developing embryo with the maternal environment, taking advantage of both naturally occurring and experimentally induced mutations. A major strength of the laboratory was the combination of classic experimental embryology techniques with molecular biology and targeted mutagenesis. During the past 25 years we have studied extensively a family of transcription factor genes, the T-box gene family. These genes share a conserved DNA-binding motif first found in the Brachyury locus. The genes are highly conserved in evolution and have been implicated in the control of mesoderm formation and in inductive interactions in the organogenesis of organs such as mammary gland, heart, lung, and limbs. Several mutations in human T-box genes have been shown to be responsible for developmental birth defects and by using targeted mutagenesis, we have produced mouse models for the human DiGeorge syndrome (TBX1), the ulnar mammary syndrome (TBX3), the small patella syndrome (TBX4), and spondylocostal dysostosis (TBX6). In addition, we have investigated the role of Tbx6 in the decision between neural and mesodermal fates and left/right body axis determination, and the roles of Tbx2, Tbx3, Tbx4 and Tbx5 in heart, limb, mammary gland and lung development. Our interest is in understanding how these genes control cell fate and tissue specification decisions during early development.

Academic Appointments

  • Special Lecturer in Genetics and Development
  • Professor Emerita of Genetics and Development

Credentials & Experience

Education & Training

  • BS, 1968 Biological Sciences, University of California - Davis
  • PhD, 1972 Genetics, Cambridge University

Honors & Awards

Burroughs Wellcome Visiting Professorship, NIMR,

Dean's Distinguished Lecture in the Basic Sciences, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University,

Saban Research Institute Distinguished Lecturer, Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles,

Rosa Beddington Lecture, Mouse Molecular Genetics Meeting,



Genetic control of mammalian development from peri-implantation stages through organogenesis; determination of the role of T-box genes in development, using embryonic stem-cell technology and targeted mutagenesis.

Selected Publications

Papaioannou, V. E. 2016. Concepts of cell lineage in mammalian embryos. Current Topics in Developmental Biology. Essays on Developmental Biology - 2016, 117:185-197. Epub 2016 Jan 21. PMC47934103.

Washkowitz AJ, Schall C, Zhang K, Floss T, Mager J and Papaioannou VE: (2015) The role of Mga in the survival of pluripotent cells during peri-implantation development. Development 142: 31-40

Papaioannou VE: (2014) The T-box gene family: Emerging roles in development, stem cells and cancer. Development 141: 3819-3833

Concepcion D and Papaioannou VE: (2014) Nature and extent of left/right axis defects in Twis/Twis mutant embryos. Developmental Dynamics 243: 2697-2702

Leitch HG, Okamura D, Durcova-Hills G, Gardner RL, Matsui Y and Papaioannou VE : (2014) On the fate of primordial germ cells injected into early mouse embryos. Developmental Biology 385: 155-159