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Swathi Arur, Ph.D.

Present Title & Affiliation

Primary Appointment

Assistant Professor, Department of Genetics, The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX

Dual/Joint/Adjunct Appointment

Assistant Professor, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, Houston, TX

Research Interests

  • RAS/ERK signaling pathways governing germ cell development
  • ERK-substrate networks
  • Evolution of developmental pathways
  • C. elegans genetics


A long-term goal of my lab is to understand how one signaling pathway can regulate many distinct biological processes in one tissue. Precise execution of the RAS-Extracellular regulated kinase (ERK) signaling cascade is critical for normal metazoan development, coordinating diverse processes like cell-fate specification, cell survival, and morphogenesis. Inappropriate execution of the RAS-ERK pathway underlies many developmental disorders as well as oncogenesis. ERK is a serine/threonine kinase that executes downstream biological processes via substrate phosphorylation. However, the identity of most ERK substrates remains elusive. Using the model organism Caenorhabditis elegans (C. elegans) and germline development as our biological context, we described at least nine distinct biological processes that are regulated by a single ERK gene, mpk-1. We then identified 30 evolutionarily conserved ERK substrates that regulate at least one of these biological processes. Our studies highlight three key themes that underlie the robustness of RAS-ERK signaling pathway: i) multiple diverse ERK substrates function to control each individual biological process; (ii) different combinations of substrates function to control distinct biological processes; and (iii) regulatory feedback loops between ERK and its substrates help reinforce or attenuate ERK activation. Thus, we have developed a powerful system through which to reveal how ERK regulates a functionally integrated series of biological processes through the coordinate, direct regulation of dozens of molecularly distinct substrates.

 Our lab presently focuses on three questions : 1) How does ERK mediated phosphorylation modulate Dicer function and microRNA biogenesis to regulate oocyte to embryo transition and onset of pluripotency? 2) How do ten of the ERK substrates integrate and cross-talk with each other in the network? What is the function of each substrate in this network, and the impact on other substrates? 3) How does ERK mediated phosphorylation of GSK-3 impact chromatin remodeling machinery to regulate oocyte growth and number?

 We fuse technologies such as genetic and RNAi based screening, transgene based analysis, cell biological and microscopic analysis, proteomic methods and large scale sequencing to understand the effect of ERK mediated phosphorylation on each of our target genes and the functional consequence of this phosphorylation to developmental pathways. 

As most if not all of the substrates we have identified likely function downstream of ERK in worms, flies, mice and man our studies should generally inform on how the RAS/ERK pathway coordinately regulates many distinct processes in higher metazoans. Our work also has the potential to provide basic insight on the molecular basis through which deregulated ERK activity leads to cancer.

View a complete list of Dr. Arur's publications.

Visit Dr. Arur's Lab Website.

Office Address

The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center
Department of Genetics Unit 1010
1515 Holcombe Blvd
Houston, TX 77030
Room Number: S11.8116A
Phone: 713-745-8424
Email: sarur@mdanderson.org

Education & Training

Degree-Granting Education

2002 All India Institute for Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India, PHD, Microbiology

Postgraduate Training

2007-1/2010 Instructor, Genetics, Developmental Biology and Cell Biology, Washington University School of Medicine, Saint Louis, MO
12/2002-2007 Post Doctoral Associate, Department of Genetics, Washington University in St Louis, School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO

Selected Publications

Peer-Reviewed Original Research Articles

1. Arur S, Schedl T. Generation and purification of highly specific antibodies for detecting post-translationally modified proteins in vivo. Nat Protoc 9(2):375-95, 2/2014. e-Pub 1/23/2014. PMID: 24457330.
2. Lopez AL, Chen J, Joo HJ, Drake M, Shidate M, Kseib C, Arur S. DAF-2 and ERK Couple Nutrient Availability to Meiotic Progression during Caenorhabditis elegans Oogenesis. Dev Cell. e-Pub 10/8/2013. PMID: 24120884.
3. Berkseth M, Ikegami K, Arur S, Lieb JD, Zarkower D. TRA-1 ChIP-seq reveals regulators of sexual differentiation and multilevel feedback in nematode sex determination. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. e-Pub 9/17/2013. PMID: 24046365.
4. Suen KM, Lin CC, George R, Melo FA, Biggs ER, Ahmed Z, Drake MN, Arur S, Arold ST, Ladbury JE. Interaction with Shc prevents aberrant Erk activation in the absence of extracellular stimuli. Nat Struct Mol Biol. e-Pub 4/2013. PMID: 23584453.
5. Putty K, Marcus SA, Mittl PR, Bogadi LE, Hunter AM, Arur S, Berg DE, Sethu P, Kalia A. Robustness of Helicobacter pylori Infection Conferred by Context-Variable Redundancy among Cysteine-Rich Paralogs. PLoS One 8(3):e59560, 2013. e-Pub 3/26/2013. PMCID: PMC3608669.
6. Yokoo R, Zawadzki KA, Nabeshima K, Drake M, Arur S, Villeneuve AM. COSA-1 Reveals Robust Homeostasis and Separable Licensing and Reinforcement Steps Governing Meiotic Crossovers. Cell 149(1):75-87, 3/30/2012. PMID: 22464324.
7. Arur S, Ohmachi M, Berkseth M, Nayak S, Hansen D, Zarkower D, Schedl T. MPK-1 ERK Controls Membrane Organization in C. elegans Oogenesis via a Sex-Determination Module. Dev Cell 20(5):677-88, 5/2011. PMID: 21571224.
8. Green RA, Kao HL, Audhya A, Arur S, Mayers JR, Fridolfsson HN, Schulman M, Schloissnig S, Niessen S, Laband K, Wang S, Starr DA, Hyman AA, Schedl T, Desai A, Piano F, Gunsalus KC, Oegema K. A High-Resolution C. elegans Essential Gene Network Based on Phenotypic Profiling of a Complex Tissue. Cell 145(3):470-82, 4/29/2011. PMCID: PMC3086541.
9. Howell K, Arur S, Schedl T, Sundaram MV. EOR-2 is an Obligate Binding Partner of the BTB-zinc Finger Protein EOR-1 in Caenorhabditis elegans. Genetics 184(4):899-913, 4/2010. e-Pub 1/11/2010. PMCID: PMC2865926.
10. Hadwiger G, Dour S, Arur S, Fox P, Nonet ML. A monoclonal antibody toolkit for C. elegans. PLoS One 5(4):e10161, 2010. e-Pub 4/13/2010. PMCID: PMC2854156.
11. Arur S, Ohmachi M, Nayak S, Hayes M, Miranda A, Hay A, Golden A, Schedl T. Multiple ERK substrates execute single biological processes in Caenorhabditis elegans germ-line development. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 106(12):4776-81, 3/24/2009. e-Pub 3/5/2009. PMCID: PMC2660749.
12. Lee MH, Ohmachi M, Arur S, Nayak S, Francis R, Church D, Lambie E, Schedl T. Multiple functions and dynamic activation of MPK-1 extracellular signal-regulated kinase signaling in Caenorhabditis elegans germline development. Genetics 177(4):2039-62, 12/2007. PMCID: PMC2219468.
13. Arur S, Uche UE, Rezaul K, Fong M, Scranton V, Cowan AE, Mohler W, Han DK. Annexin I is an endogenous ligand that mediates apoptotic cell engulfment. Dev Cell 4(4):587-98, 4/2003. PMID: 12689596.

Last updated: 1/9/2014