Department of Regenerative Medicine and Cell Biology

Director of Gene Function Core

Michael J. Kern, Ph.D.

Joint appointment: Oral Health Sciences Department,  College of Dental Medicine, MUSC
Adjunct Professor: Clemson-MUSC Bioengineering, College of Engineering, Clemson Univ.

Room 638, Basic Science Building
Office: (843) 792-1774
Lab: (843) 792-1782


BA Biology Thomas More College 1983
PhD Microbiology University of Kentucky 1990
Postdoctoral Fellow at University of Cincinnati

Research Contributions:

I have always been interested in the genetic circuitry of tissue formation and patterning that occurs during development.  Homeobox genes are DNA binding transcription factors that are intimately involved in these processes, and they are present in all species from Drosophila to human.  Since I cloned the Prrx1 gene 24 years ago my research has focused on understanding its function.  I have generated mouse models deficient in this gene and its homolog Prrx2 to uncover the overlapping and independent functions of the closely related paired type homeobox proteins. Null mice revealed that the Prrx1 and Prrx2 genes are critical for morphogenesis of teeth, hair, salivary glands, bone and blood vessels. Many of the regions impacted by Prrx deletions are craniofacial, which ties in with my didactic teaching of histology and embryology to dental students and residents. Throughout the years 36 students have worked in my lab and contributed to our understanding of the role of Prrx genes in morphogenesis: 1-DMD Ph.D., 3-PhD, 1-MS, 22-DMD, 7-undergraduates, and 2-high school students.

Current Research Interests:

Research in my laboratory is currently focused on the carboxyl terminal region of the Prrx proteins which contains an OAR domain.  In total there are 16 human proteins that contain a version of the OAR domain.  Although it is phylogenetically conserved through Drosophila, not much is known about this domain in any specie.  Work in our laboratory and others has led to the hypothesis that the OAR domain is a cofactor binding site, and that protein-protein interactions between the 16 OAR containing proteins and an unknown suite of cofactors likely modulate transcription of nearby genes.  My current research is focused on identifying these OAR cofactors, their specificity for the 16 OAR domains, and how these interactions modulate transcriptional regulation.  This work is critical since all 16 OAR containing proteins are integral to morphogenesis of many tissues and organs.  In addition, our collaborative work recently published in Cell has demonstrated that Prrx1 is linked to diabetes, therefore highlighting an additional role for these important homeodomain proteins. 

I have a long standing and ongoing collaborative project in the area of biomechanical engineering of the Temporal Mandibular Joint (TMJ) with Hai Yao, Ph.D. of the Clemson-MUSC Bioengineering Program.  Our work together has illuminated many cell biological and mechanical properties of TMJ disc cells.  This data is being collected in order to create a finite element bioengineering model of TMJ function.  The ultimate goal is to be able to integrate this computer simulation model with personal TMJ function information to derive predictions on the potential of TMJ pathogenesis, to better define regeneration potential, and to guide production of patient-tailored implantable devices.

Primary Teaching Responsibilities:

  • Course Director: CELL-628: Basic & Oral Histology, & Embryology (2004-present) MUSC, College of Dental Medicine: (8 credit hours)
  • Course Director: PEDOR-823: Clinical Genetics (2015-present) MUSC, College of Dental Medicine (1 credit hour)
  • Lecturer in College of Graduate Studies-Summer Undergraduate Research Program (2006-present) (3 hrs) Development, Tooth Genetics, and Craniofacial Genetics
  • Lecturer Dental Residency Programs, College of Dental Medicine (2009-present) (5 hrs) Tooth development, Craniofacial Genetics, Craniofacial development

Awards/Honors/NIH Review Panels:

  • Outstanding Teacher of the Year College of Graduate Studies, MUSC (2002 and 2004)
  • Presidential Scholars- MUSC College of Graduate Studies faculty mentor (2008-2011)
  • Outstanding Basic Science Professor College of Dental Medicine MUSC (2010, 2011, and 2013)
  • Health Sciences Teaching Excellence Award-Lecturer, MUSC (2010)
  • South Carolina Distinguished Professor (2010)
  • Member, National Board of Dental Examiners Part 1, Anatomical Sciences Section (2010-2015)
  • Member, Omicron Kappa Upsilon Dental Honor Society, Chapter Zeta Eta (2011)
  • Member, NIH Special Emphasis Review Panel, COBRE Phase 3 (2013 and 2015)
  • President, Omicron Kappa Upsilon Dental Honor Society, Chapter Zeta Eta (2015)

Major Administrative Responsibilities:

  • DMD Admissions Committee Member & Interviewer, College of Dental Medicine (2006-present)
  • Co-Director Dental Scientist Training Program, College of Dental Medicine (2007-present)
  • Graduate Council member, College of Graduate Studies (2007-present)
  • Academic Progress Committee, College of Dental Medicine (2009-present)
  • MSTP Admissions Committee Member & Interviewer, College of Medicine (2012-present)
  • Academic Promotion and Tenure Committee, College of Dental Medicine (2012-present)

FUNDING (Active Grants):

  1. R13 DE025171-01 (PI MJ Kern) 8/01/15-7/30/16, 5%
    NIH/National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
    Developmental Disorders of the Dentition
    $30,000 (direct cost)
  2. R01 HL121382-01 (PI C. Kern; Co-I MJ Kern) 10/1/14-9/30/18, 5%
    NIH/National Heart Lung and Blood Institute
    Proteoglycan Regulation During Cardiac Valve Development And Homeostasis
    $250,000 (direct cost year 1)
  3. P30 GM103342 (PI Markwald; Director Gene Function Core MJ Kern,), 4/1/12-3/30/17, 10%
    NIH/ National Center for General Medicine
    SC COBRE for Cardiovascular Disease
    $750,000 (direct cost year 14) Core D-Gene Function Core $190,000 (direct year 14)
  4. T32 NIH-DE017551-01 (PI Kirkwood; Co-PI MJ Kern) 7/01/06-6/30/16, 15%
    NIH/ National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
    MUSC Dental Research Training Grant
    $484,262 (direct cost year 10)
  5. R01 NIH-DE021134 (PI Yao; Co-I MJ Kern) 3/01/12-2/28/17, 15%
    NIH/ National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research
    Integrating biomechanics and cell biology to understand Temporomandibular joint pathology
    $428,073 (direct cost year 4)

Selected Publications (2011-present):

  1. Potter CS, Pruett ND, Kern MJ, Sundberg JP, Awgulewitsch A. Dysregulated expression of sterol O-acyltransferase 1 (Soat1) in the hair shaft of Hoxc13 null mice.  Experimental and Molecular Pathology (accepted August 24, 2015)
  2. Wu Y., Cisewski SE, Sachs BL,  Pellegrini VD,  Kern MJ, and Yao H.  The Region-dependent Biomechanical and Biochemical Properties of Bovine Cartilaginous Endplate Journal of Biomechanics (accepted July 6, 2015)
  3. Wu Y, Kuo J, Wright GJ, Cisewski SE, Wei F, Kern MJ, Yao H. Viscoelastic shear properties of porcine temporomandibular joint disc. Orthod Craniofac Res. 2015 Apr;18 Suppl 1:156-63. PMID: 25865544
  4. Cisewski SE, Zhang L, Kuo J, Wright GJ, Wu Y, Kern MJ, Yao H.  The effects of oxygen level and glucose concentration on the metabolism of porcine TMJ disc cells. Osteoarthritis Cartilage. 2015 May 29: S1063-4584(15)01178-4. PMID: 26033165
  5. Claussnitzer M, Klocke B, Dankel SN, Grallert H, Berulava T, Lee H, Hansson O, Glunk V, Ehlers K, Wahl S, Hoffmann C, Bretschneider N, Rönn T, Skurk T, Horsthemke B, DIAGRAM+ Consortium, Spieler D, Klingenspor M, Mellgren G, Kern MJ, Groop L, McCarthy M, Hauck SM, Illig T, Seiffert M, Hauner H, Laumen H. Empowering genetic associations: from diabetes risk loci to disease mechanisms. Cell. 2014 Jan 16; 156(1-2):343-58. PMID: 24439387
  6. Sugi Y, Kern MJ, Markwald RR, and Burnside JL.  Periostin expression is altered in Aortic valves in Smad6 mutant mice.  Journal of Neonatal Biology 2012 Jan 21;1: 4692. PMCID: PMC4224111
  7. Griffin AC, Kern MJ and Kirkwood KL.  MKP-1 is Essential for Canonical Vitamin D-induced Signaling through Nuclear Import and Regulates RANKL Expression and Function Molecular Endocrinology 2012  26:1682-93. PMCID: PMC3458222
  8. Pruett ND, Hajdu Z, Zhang J, Visconti RP, Kern MJ, Wellik DM, Majesky MW, Awgulewitsch A. Changing topographic Hox expression in blood vessels results in regionally distinct vessel wall remodeling.  Biology Open 2012 May 15;1(5):430-5. PMCID:PMC3507213
  9. Potter CS, Pruett ND, Kern MJ, Baybo MA, Doowin AR, Potter KA, Peterson RL, Sundberg JP, Awgulewitsch A.  The nude mutant gene Foxn1 is a HOXC13 regulatory target during hair follicle and nail differentiation.  J. Invest. Dermatology  2011 131: 828-837.PMCID:PMC3059342
  10. Potter KA, Kern MJ, Fullbright G, Bielawski J, Scherer SS, Yum SW, Li J, Cheng H, Venkata JK, Khan AA, Hama H.  Central nervous system dysfunction in a mouse model of FA2H deficiency  Glia 2011 59:1009-10021  PMCID:PMC3094470
  11. Kuo J., Shi C., Cisewski S., Zhang L., Kern MJ, Yao, H.  Regional Cell Density Distribution and Oxygen Consumption Rates in Porcine TMJ Discs: An Explant Study  Osteoarthritis and Cartilage  2011 19:911-8 PMCID:PMC3132219
  12. Lu X., Beck G. R., Gilbert L. C., Camalier C. E., Bateman N. W., Hood B. L., Conrads T. P., Kern MJ, You S., Chen H., and Nanes M. S..  Identification of the Homeobox Protein, Prx1 (MHox), as a Regulator of Osterix Expression and Mediator of TNF Action. J Bone Miner Res. 2011 Jan 26: 209-19. PMCID: PMC3179318
Complete List of Published Work in MyBibliography
Last updated on 23-Sep-2015

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