Alfred H. Merrill
Professor and Smithgall Institute Chair of Molecular Cell Biology
Parker H. Petit Biotechnology (IBB) 3309
Educational Experience:
Ph.D., Biochemistry, Molecular and Cell Biology, Cornell University
Research Interests:
Sphingolipids, Mass spectrometry

My laboratory studies a category of lipids, termed sphingolipids, that are important in cell structure, cell-cell communication and signal transduction. This research concerns both complex sphingolipids (sphingomyelins and glycosphingolipids) and the lipid backbones (ceramide, sphingosine, sphingosine 1-phosphate and others) that regulate diverse cell behaviors, including growth, differentiation, autophagy and programmed cell death. The major tool that we use to identify and quantify these compounds is tandem mass spectrometry, which we employ in combination with liquid chromatography for "lipidomic" analysis and in other mass spectrometry platforms (e.g., MALDI) for "tissue imaging" mass spectrometry.  To assist interpretation of the mass spectrometry results, and to predict where interesting changes in sphingolipid metabolism might occur, we use tools for visualization of gene expression data in a pathway context (e.g., a "SphingoMAP").  These methods are used to characterize how sphingolipids are made, act, and turned over under both normal conditions and diseases where sphingolipids are involved, such as cancer, and where disruption of these pathways can cause disease, as occurs upon consumption of fumonisins.  Since sphingolipids are also components of food, we determine how dietary sphingolipids are digested and taken up, and become part of the body's "sphingolipidome."