BBS Faculty Member - Eric Liao

Eric Liao

Department of Surgery

Massachusetts General Hospital
Simches Research Building, CPZN 4256
185 Cambridge Street
Boston, MA 02114
Tel: 617-643-5975
Fax: 617-643-5967
Visit my lab page here.

The fundamental questions under investigation in our laboratory concern how vertebrate craniofacial form takes shape, and how disruption of this highly choreographed process results in craniofacial anomalies. We are studying how cranial neural crest cells undergo specification, pluripotency, patterning and morphogenesis to elaborate the craniofacial form. Derangements of cranial neural crest cell development can result in orofacial clefts such as cleft lip and palate, which are among the most common congenital malformations. As a plastic surgeon that cares for children with orofacial clefts, I am keenly aware of the clinical and personal concerns of the patients and their families. It is with this clinical perspective and urgency that I aim to leverage the gains we make in mechanistic understanding of craniofacial biology toward clinical impact.

The zebrafish model affords many advantages toward morphogenetic analysis of craniofacial development, and opportunity to identify genetic and chemical regulators. We and others have performed morphogenetic studies to delineate cranial neural crest contribution to the palate, and established molecular and anatomic homology between zebrafish and mammalian palatogenesis. Further, we have generated several zebrafish models of orofacial clefts, to dissect the mechanisms underlying these malformations. We are exploiting the versatility in knockdown and targeted gene disruption approaches to apply zebrafish toward functional analysis of human candidate genes implicated in congenital craniofacial anomalies. The zebrafish cleft models can also serve as the substrate in small molecule screens to identify compounds that promote or mitigate orofacial cleft phenotypes. Therefore our work is not only focused on genetic and mechanistic understanding of craniofacial development, but also harnessed toward translational aims in functional genomics and drug discovery. We hope our work will converge genomics, embryology and chemical biology to close the gap on the understanding and treatment of orofacial clefts.

Last Update: 8/7/2014


Dougherty M, Kamel G, Grimaldi M, Gfrerer L, Shubinets V, Ethier R, Hickey G, Cornell RA, Liao EC. Distinct requirements for wnt9a and irf6 in extension and integration mechanisms during zebrafish palate morphogenesis. Development. 2013 Jan 1;140(1):76-81. PubMed PMID: 23154410.

Kamel G, Hoyos T, Rochard L, Dougherty M, Kong Y, Tse W, Shubinets V, Grimaldi M,
Liao EC. Requirement for frzb and fzd7a in cranial neural crest convergence and extension mechanisms during zebrafish palate and jaw morphogenesis. Dev Biol. 2013 Sep 15;381(2):423-33. PubMed PMID: 23806211.

Kinikoglu B, Kong Y,
Liao EC. Characterization of cultured multipotent zebrafish neural crest cells. Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2014 Feb 1;239(2):159-68. PubMed PMID: 24326414. (Featured article with press release).

Kong Y, Grimaldi M, Curtin E, Dougherty M, Kaufman C, White R, Zon LI, and
Liao EC. Neural crest development and craniofacial morphogenesis are coordinated by nitric oxide and histone acetylation. Chemistry & Biology. 2014 Mar 25. (Cover article with preview editor commentary).

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