James A. Walker, PhD

  • Lab Phone: 617-569-4671

Research Investigator Profile

James A. Walker, PhD


Center for Human Genetic Research

  • Scott Plotkin, Vamsi Mootha, Vishal Gohil

MGH Cancer Center

  • Luisa Di Stefano, Nick Dyson

Alexander Fleming Institute, Greece

  • Makis Skoulakis, Jean Gouzi

James A. Walker, PhD

  • Instructor in Neurology,
    Harvard Medical School



Research Description

We use Drosophila as a model system to study orthologs of genes involved in several human neurological diseases. Genetic screens, combined with biochemical, molecular and cellular biological techniques provide a powerful to approach to uncovering the signaling pathways involved in disease processes.

a) Neurofibromatosis type-1 (NF1) is a common genetic disease for which there is currently no effective therapy. Patients with mutations in the tumor suppressor gene NF1 are predisposed to benign and malignant tumors, many of which affect the peripheral and central nervous system (CNS). By studying the function of NF1 in growth control and learning/memory in Drosophila we are uncovering novel signaling pathways regulated by NF1 that may provide possible therapeutic targets.

b) Schwannomatosis is characterized by multiple spinal, peripheral, and cranial nerve schwannomas. Recently we have been using Drosophila to shed light on the role of the tumor suppressor genes NF2 and SMARCB1 in this disease.

c) We are also using Drosophila to study the normal function of Huntingtin (Htt), the gene responsible for Huntington’s Disease.  Considerable work has been conducted on the mutant form of Htt, which contains polyglutamine repeats. However, it is likely that loss of normal Htt function also contributes to disease progression and it is hoped that Drosophila will be useful as a model system for determining the normal roles of Htt.

UAS-GFP reporter staining for actin Insulin produced in neuroendocrine cells NF1 regulates growth eye tissue overgrowth

Select any image to view captions.

Research interests Control of cell and organismal growth; tumor suppressors; signal transduction; chromatin remodeling; neuropeptides
Research techniques Drosophila genetics, molecular and cellular biology, biochemistry
Diseases studied Neurofibromatosis, schwannomatosis, Huntington’s Disease
Selected publications
  1. Walker, JA, Tchoudakcova, AV, McKenney, PT, Brill, S, Wu, D, Cowley, GS, Hariharan, IK, Bernards, A. Reduced growth of Drosophila neurofibromatosis 1 mutants reflects a  non-cell-autonomous requirement for GTPase Activating Protein activity in larval neurons. Genes and Development 2006; 20(23): 3311-3323.
  2. Walker, JA, Bernards, A. Drosophila melanogaster neurofibromatosis-1: ROS, not Ras? Nature Genetics 2007; 39, 4: 443-445.
NIH biosketch James A. Walker, PhD
E-mail address jwalker@helix.mgh.harvard.edu
Lab mailing address MGH Center for Cancer Research
Room 7119, Building 149
149 13th Street
Charlestown, MA 02129
Lab website

Bernards Lab,Center for Cancer Research

Gusella Lab, CHGR