Kenneth D. Poss, Ph.D. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)


James B. Duke Professor, Cell Biology
Professor, Biology
Professor, Medicine

Director, Regeneration Next Initiative


466 Nanaline Duke Building, Box 3709
Duke University Medical Center
Durham, NC 27710

Telephone 919-681-8457
Fax 919-684-8090

Lab Site

How and why tissue regeneration does (or does not) occur are critical questions. The biology of regeneration remains both challenging and fascinating, and new discoveries have the potential to impact clinical outcomes of many diseases of organ damage, including heart failure, Alzheimer's disease, and diabetes.

 It has been known for centuries that salamanders and fish regenerate complex tissues much more effectively than mammals.  Zebrafish have emerged as a central model system for studying regeneration, due to their ability to regenerate myriad tissues and to the availability of molecular genetic tools. Over the past decade, our laboratory has spearheaded their use to reveal concepts and mechanisms of regeneration.

 We study the initial morphogenesis and injury-induced regeneration of several tissues in zebrafish.  The majority of our student and postdoc projects focus on (but are not limited to) adult heart and fins.

Heart regeneration

There is little natural regeneration of the major structural cells of the adult mammalian heart, the cardiomyocytes, after injury. This regenerative shortcoming is highly relevant to human disease, given the high prevalence in the United States of ischemic myocardial infarction and heart failure. Several years ago, we introduced a model system approach to heart regeneration, by showing that adult zebrafish can regenerate new muscle lost after major cardiac injury. Since then, we have found that cardiac regeneration is not based on stem cells, but rather involves activation and proliferation of spared cardiac myocytes. We also have demonstrated multiple roles during heart regeneration for the epicardium, a thin epithelial layer enveloping the cardiac chambers, and the inner endothelial lining of the chambers called the endocardium.  Together, models like zebrafish and neonatal mice have great potential to reveal methods to gauge and stimulate human heart regeneration.  We are continuing to investigate how muscle and non-muscle cells respond to injury and orchestrate regeneration.  Key issues include the identification of cardiomyocyte mitogens, the definition of gene regulatory elements that activate regeneration programs, and how to use fundamental mechanistic data in platforms to boost cardiac regenerative capacity in mammals.  Our methods are exploratory and rely heavily on generation of new mutant and transgenic animals.

Appendage regeneration

Zebrafish fins are transparent, intricately patterned structures, making them tractable for asking fundamental questions about complex tissue regeneration. Within two weeks after amputation of a fin, a series of healing, proliferation, and patterning events replaces bone, epidermis, blood vessels, nerves, and connective tissue mesenchyme. Our work on fin regeneration has helped establish the cellular origins of regenerated fin tissue, and has identified new concepts and molecular mechanisms of appendage regeneration. We are pursuing informative mutants in fin regeneration, both by forward genetic screens and targeted gene editing. Also, we are developing new methods for imaging of key cellular and molecular events during regeneration, with goals to acquire and quantify live cellular and subcellular events in regenerating complex tissues.

Recent Publications:

Kang, J., Hu, J., Karra, R., Dickson, A. L., Tornini, V. A., Nachtrab, G., Gemberling, M., Goldman, J. A., Black, B. L., and Poss, K. D.  (2016).  Modulation of tissue repair by regeneration enhancer elements.  Nature 532, 201-206

Foglia, M. J., Cao, J., Tornini, V. A., and Poss, K. D.  (2016). Multicolor mapping of the cardiomyocyte proliferation dynamics that construct the atrium.  Development (in press)

Cao, J., and Poss, K.D.  (2016).  Explant culture of adult zebrafish hearts for epicardial regeneration studies. Nature Protocols 11, 872-881

Foglia, M. J. and Poss, K. D.  Building and rebuilding the heart by cardiomyocyte proliferation.  Development 143, 729-740

Chen, CH, Puliafito, A, Cox, BD, Primo, L, Fang, Y, Di Talia, S, and Poss, KD (2016) Multicolor Cell Barcoding Technology for Long-Term Surveillance of Epithelial Regeneration in Zebrafish.  Dev Cell 36(6):668-80

Cao, J., Navis, A., Cox, B. D., Dickson, A. L., Gemberling, M., Karra, R., Bagnat, M., and Poss, K. D.  (2016). Single epicardial cell transcriptome sequencing identifies Caveolin-1 as an essential factor in zebrafish heart regeneration.  Development 143, 232-243

Karra, R., Knecht, A., Kikuchi, K., and Poss, K.D.  (2015)  Myocardial NF-kB induction is essential for zebrafish heart regeneration. PNAS, USA 112, 13255-13260.

Chen, C. H., Merriman, A. F., Savage, J., Willer, J., Wahlig, T., Katsanis, N., Yin, V. P., and Poss, K. D.  (2015). Transient laminin beta 1a induction defines the wound epidermis during zebrafish fin regenerationPLoS Genetics 11, e1005437.

Gemberling, M., Karra, R., Dickson, A. L., and Poss, K. D. (2015). Nrg1 is an injury-induced cardiomyocyte mitogen for the endogenous heart regeneration program in zebrafish. eLife 4:e05871

Wang, J., Cao, J., Dickson, A. L., and Poss, K. D. (2015). Epicardial regeneration is guided by cardiac outflow tract and Hedgehog signaling.  Nature 522, 226-230.

Palencia-Desai, S., Rost, M.S., Schumacher, J. A., Ton, Q. V., Craig, M. P., Baltrunaite, K., Koenig, A., Wang, J., Poss, K. D., Chi, N. C., Stainier, D. Y. R., and Sumanas, S.  (2015). Myocardium and BMP signaling are required for endocardial differentiation. Development 142, 2304-2315,

Nagelberg, D., Wang, J., Su, R., Torres-Vazquez, J., Poss, K. D., and Knaut, H.  (2015).  Origin, specification, and plasticity of the great vessels of the heartCurrent Biology 17, 2099-2110.

Mahmoud, A. I., O’Meara, C. C., Gemberling, M. G., Zhao, L., Bryant, D. M., Zheng, R., Gannon, J. B., Cai, L., Choi, W. Y., Egnaczyk, G. F., Burns, C. E., Burns, C. G., MacRae, C. A., Poss, K. D., and Lee, R. T.  (2015). Nerves regulate cardiomyocyte proliferation and heart regenerationDevelopmental Cell 34, 387-399.

Kang, J., Karra, R., and Poss, K. D. (2015).  Back in blackDevelopmental Cell 33, 623-624.

Click here for a full list of Publications.