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Pierre A. Coulombe, PhD

  • Chair, Biochemistry & Molecular Biology
  • Professor

Departmental Affiliations

Contact Information

615 N. Wolfe Street
Room W8041
Baltimore, Maryland 21205


SciVal Research Profile

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PhD, University of Montreal, 1987


Topic:  Structural and signaling roles of keratin cytoskeletal assemblies; Epithelial differentiation and homeostasis in health and disease.

Our laboratory studies the biology of complex epithelia, in health and in disease, from the perspective of large family of conserved genes encoding keratin cytoskeletal proteins. These proteins polymerize to form 10-nm wide “intermediate” filaments which, in vivo, are organized in intricate cytoplasmic networks anchored at the surface of the nucleus and at cell-cell and cell-matrix adhesion complexes.

A major role of keratin filaments is to endow epithelial cells and tissues with the ability to withstand mechanical stress. Mutations affecting keratin sequences underlie several inherited blistering diseases in which epithelial cells are fragile and rupture readily upon exposure to stress. We are studying the biochemical, biophysical, and structural determinants of this important function, and pursuing novel approaches to treat such diseases.

A newly defined role for keratins is to bind and modulate the activity of a variety of signaling effectors. In skin, we found that keratins impact the survival, growth, and immune function of keratinocytes, and that these contributions are physiologically important during wound repair, in the lifelong growth cycle of hair follicles, and in the context of chronic diseases such as cancer.

Honors and Awards

2013: Inaugural Mary Schwartz Lecture in Skin Biology, University of Dundee, UK

2013: Irwin M. Freedberg Memorial Lecture, Gordon Research Conference on Epithelial Differentiation

2009: Elected Fellow, Section of Biological Sciences, Amer. Assoc. Adv. Sciences

2008: E. V. McCollum Endowed Professorship, Bloomberg School of Public Health

2008: William F. Montagna lecturer, Society for Investigative Dermatology

2008:  “Milestone Discovery” for the cytoskeleton, Nature Publishing Group

2000: Teacher of the Year, J.H.U. Graduate Student Association

1995-97: Junior Faculty Research Award - American Cancer Society

1994-95: James A. Shannon Director’s Award - National Institutes of Health

1992: Thomas B. Fitzpatrick Research Award in Dermatology

1989-92: Centennial Fellowship Award - Medical Research Council of Canada

  • skin, epidermis, hair follicle and keratinocyte
  • keratin, intermediate filament, cytoskeleton, and genodermatose
  • tissue repair, cancer, inflammation, immunity, and gene expression
  • Assays involving purified protein, cultured cells, and transgenic mouse models

Representative publications from the recent past are given here:

  • Lessard JC, Pina-Paz S, Rotty JD, Hickerson RP, Kaspar RL, Balmain A, Coulombe PA (2013). Keratin 16 regulates innate immunity in response to epidermal barrier breach. Proc Natl Acad Sci (USA) 110(48):19537-42.

  • Lee CH, Kim MS, Leahy DJ, Coulombe PA (2012). Structural basis for heterodimerization and cytoplasmic organization of keratin intermediate filaments. Nat. Struct. Mol. Biol. 19(7):707-15.

  • Rotty J, Coulombe PA (2012). A wound-induced keratin regulates Src activity during keratinocyte migration and tissue repair. J. Cell Biol. 197(3):381-9.

  • Pan X, Hobbs R, Coulombe PA (2012). The expanding significance of keratin intermediate filaments in normal and diseased epithelia. Curr. Opin. Cell Biol. 25(1): 47-56.

  • DePianto D, Kerns M, Dlugosz AA, Coulombe PA (2010). Keratin 17 promotes epithelial proliferation and tumor growth by polarizing the immune response in skin. Nat. Genet. 42: 910-4.