Alex Schier

Professor of Molecular and Cellular Biology

Harvard University
Biological Labs, Room 1027
16 Divinity Ave.
Cambridge, MA 02138
Tel: 617-496-4835


Lab Size: Between 10 and 15


Our research focuses on two areas: the molecular basis of embryogenesis and the neural regulation of sleep and wakefulness. We mainly use zebrafish as a model system, because genetic and imaging approaches can be combined to study complex behaviors and developmental processes in a vertebrate.

(i) vertebrate embryogenesis - how do signals, chromatin and non-coding RNAs influence the fate and movement of cells? The vertebrate body plan is set up during early embryogenesis, when a ball of undifferentiated, totipotent cells is transformed into an embryo. We wish to understand how non-coding RNAs, chromatin modifications and cell signaling regulate this process.

(ii) sleep and wakefulness - what are the genes and circuits that regulate sleep? As many as 10% of Americans suffer chronic sleep disturbances, but the genetic and cellular mechanisms that control sleep and wake states remain largely elusive. We use genetic screens to find molecules that modulate sleep and optogenetics to define the circuits that regulate sleep.


Rihel, J., Prober, D., Arvanites, A., Lam, K., Zimmerman, S., Jang, S., Haggarty, S.J., Kokel, D., Rubin, L.L., Peterson, R.T. and Schier, A.F. (2010). Behavioral profiling links drugs to biological targets and the regulation of rest/wake states. Science 15, 348-51. PMCID: PMC2830481

Müller, P., Rogers, K.W., Jordan, B.M., Lee, J.S., Robson, D., Ramanathan, S., and Schier, A.F. (2012). Differential diffusivity of Nodal and Lefty underlies a reaction-diffusion patterning system. Science 336, 721-4.

Pauli, A., Norris, M.L., Valen, E., Chew, G.-L., Gagnon, J.A., Zimmerman, S., Mitchell, A., Ma, J., Dubrulle, J., Reyon, D., Tsai, S.Q., Joung, J.K., Saghatelian, A., and Schier, A.F. (2014). Toddler: an embryonic signal that promotes cell movement via Apelin receptors. Science 343, 1248636

Dubrulle, J., Jordan, B.M., Akhmetova, L., Farrell, J.A., Kim, S.-H., Solnica-Krezel, L. and Schier, A.F.  (2015) Response to Nodal morphogen gradient is shaped by the kinetics of target gene induction. eLIFE doi: 10.7554/eLife.05042. 

Randlett, O., Wee, C., Naumann, E.A., Nnaemeka, O., Schoppik, D., Fitzgerald, J.E., Portugues, R., Lacoste, A., Riegler, C., Engert, F., and Schier, A.F.  (2015). Whole-brain activity mapping onto a zebrafish brain atlas. Nature Methods, 12, 1039-46