We are interested in exploring how cells regulate their survival and death.  How does a cell decide whether to survive and cope, or trigger apoptosis in response to different stimuli?  If the apoptotic pathway is activated, what is its mechanism and how is it regulated?

We are particularly interested in identifying the unique ways in which different cells control apoptosis.  For example, apoptosis is highly restricted in postmitotic cells such as neurons- which is beneficial for their long-term survival.  In contrast, embryonic stem cells are primed to undergo rapid apoptosis in response to DNA damage- an ability that permits for the rapid elimination of damaged cells during embryonic development.

Thus, we focus on studying how cell survival and death is regulated in neurons, stem cells and cancer cells in cell culture as well as in mouse models of neurodegeneration, cancer, and aging.

Some Questions Currently Under Investigation:

What are the mechanisms that allow neurons to survive long-term?

How does a neuron degenerate its axons yet protect the soma?

How is apoptosis dynamically controlled during embryonic stem cell differentiation?

Can we utilize the survival mechanisms engaged by the healthy brain to prevent neurodegeneration?

Can the differences between mitotic cells and neurons be utilized to selectively kill brain tumor cells while sparing neurons?


Mohanish Deshmukh
Neuroscience Center
Cell Biology and Physiology
Co-Director UNC MD/PhD
University of North Carolina @Chapel Hill

Emilie Hollville
Postdoctoral Researcher

Richa Basundra
Postdoctoral Researcher

Nazanin Kiapour
Postdoctoral Researcher

Matt Geden
Postdoctoral Researcher
Selena Romero
Graduate Student
Sahil Kapoor
Research Technician
Nicole Melchiorre

Rasika Rao

Nehemiah Stewart

Ralph Alberto

Isabella Fry
Shaylyn Clancy

Sandy Ng

Gabby Cole

Ryker Smith

Lab Alumni

Patrick "Ryan" Potts
Research Tech 2001-2003
Currently, Associate Member, St. Judes Children's Research Hospital, Memphis.

Michael Linhoff
Research Tech 2001-2002
Currently, Postdoc with Dr. Paul Brehm, Vollum Institute, Portland.

Malia (Knezek) Potts
Research Tech 2002-2004
Currently, Assistant Member, St. Judes Children's Research Hospital, Memphis

Kevin Wright
Graduate Student 2002-2006
Currently, Assistant Scientist, Vollum Institute

Allyson Evans
Graduate Student 2003-2007
Currently, Senior Editor at Molecular Cell

Michelle Smith
Graduate Student 2004-2008
Currently, Silverberg Lab, Mount Sinai Hospital, Toronto, Canada

Yolanda Huang
MD/PhD Student 2005-2009
Currently, Anesthesiologist, Columbia University

Raluca Dumitru
Postdoc 2007-2010
Currently, Research Scientist for Precision Biosciences, Inc

Adam Kole
MD/PhD Student 2007-2011
Currently, Radiation Oncology Resident at Yale University

Erica Cloer
Research Tech 2007-2011
Currently, Graduate student with Dr. Ben Major, UNC-Chapel Hill

Johanna Schafer
Research Tech 2010-2011
Currently, Graduate student with Dr. Jennifer Pietenpol at Vanderbilt

Beth Knight
Graduate Student 2007-2014
Currently, science communicator for Clinical Research Performance, Inc

Corey Cusack
Graduate Student 2009-2014
Currently scientific director at RevHealth

Vivian Gama
Postdoc 2008-2015
Currently, Assistant Professor at Vanderbilt

Cornelius Flowers
Research Tech 2011-2014

Vijay Swahari
Postdoc 2008-2016
Currently Psychiatry Resident at Duke

Ayumi Nakamura
MD/PhD Student 2012-2016
Currently Psychiatry Resident at Duke

Anna Cliffe
Postdoc 2010-2016
Currently Assistant Professor at UVA

Ryan Annis
Graduate Student 2010-2016

Matt Beck
Research Technician 2016-2018
Currently Student at UNC School of Medicine




Select Publications

Nakamura, A., Swahari, V., Plestant, ., Smith, I., McCoy, E., Smith, S., Moy, SS., Anton, ES., and M. Deshmukh. 2016. Bcl-xL Is Essential for the Survival and Function of Differentiated Neurons in the Cortex That Control Complex Behaviors . J. Neurosci. 36(20):5448 –5461

Swahari, V., Nakamura, A., Baran-Gale, J., Garcia, I., Crowther, AJ., Sons, R.,
Gershon, TR., Hammond, S., Sethupathy, P., M Deshmukh. 2016. Essential Function of Dicer in Resolving DNA Damage in the Rapidly Dividing Cells of the Developing and Malignant Cerebellum . Cell Reports. 10.1016

Cliffe AR, Arbuckle JH, Vogel JL, Geden MJ, Rothbart SB, Cusack CL, Strahl BD, Kristie TM, Deshmukh M. 2015. Neuronal Stress Pathway Mediating a Histone Methyl/Phospho Switch Is Required for Herpes Simplex Virus Reactivation . Cell Host Microbe. 18(6):649-58.

Gama, V., Swahari, V., Schafer, J., Kale, A.J., Evans, A., Huang, Y., Cliffe, A., Golitz, B., Sciaky, N., Pei, X.H., Xiong, Y., and M. Deshmukh. 2014. The E3 ligase PARC mediates the degradation of cytosolic cytochrome c to promote survival in neurons and cancer cells. Sci. Signal. 7(334).

Cusack, C.L., V. Swahari, W.H. Henley, J.M. Ramsey, and M. Deshmukh. 2013. Distinct Pathways Mediate Axon Degeneration during Apoptosis and Axon-Specific Pruning. Nat. Commun. 4: 1876.

Dumitru, R*.,  V. Gama*, M. Fagan, J.J. Bower, V. Swahari, L.H. Pevny, M. Deshmukh. 2012. Human Embryonic Stem Cells have Constitutively Active Bax at the Golgi and are Primed to Undergo Rapid ApoptosisMol Cell. 46:573-583.  (Featured Preview Article) *Equal Contribution

Kole, A.J., V. Swahari, S.M. Hammond, and M. Deshmukh. 2011.  miR-29b is Activated During Neuronal Maturation and Targets BH3-only Genes to Restrict Apoptosis.  Genes & Dev. 25:125-130.

Vaughn, A.E and M. Deshmukh. 2008. Glucose Metabolism Inhibits Apoptosis in neurons and Cancer Cells by Redox Inactivation of Cytochrome cNat. Cell Biol.. 10:1477-1483. (News)


Recent Review Articles

Hollville, E., M. Deshmukh. 2017. Physiological functions of non-apoptotic caspase activity in the nervous systemSem Cell Dev Biol. 11.037

Geden, MJ., M Deshmukh. 2016. Axon degeneration: context defines distinct pathways . Curr Opin Neurobiol.39:108–115

Gama, V., Deshmukh M. 2015. Life after MOMPMol Cell. 58(2):199-201.

Kole, A.J., R. P. Annis, and M. Deshmukh. 2013.  Mature Neurons: Equipped for Survival. Cell Death & Dis. 4:e689.


Lab Photos