Denise Montell is a cell and developmental biologist recognized for her work on dynamic cell behaviors such as collective migration and recovery from extreme stress. She was born in Jackson, Mississippi and grew up in New Orleans. She earned a B.A. in Biochemistry and Cell Biology from the University of California, San Diego and a Ph.D. in Neurosciences from Stanford University. She was a postdoctoral fellow and then independent investigator at the Carnegie Institution of Washington. She joined the faculty of The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in 1992, where she served as the founding director of the Center for Cell Dynamics. Montell moved to the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2013 where she is a Distinguished Professor. Montell has served on advisory councils for the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, the American Cancer Society, and the American Society for Cell Biology, and as President of the Genetics Society of America. Montell is a recipient of the Lucille P. Markey Award, W.M. Keck Foundation Award, and the NIH Director’s Pioneer Award. She is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Society for Cell Biology and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Research Interests

Denise Montell's laboratory studies how cells behave in the living animal as they build normal organs and tissues and how cancer cells coopt these mechanisms to survive and spread. The lab has uncovered core mechanisms that govern the ability of cells to move in cooperative groups. Montell discovered that the protein Rac is essential for actin-based protrusion and migration in vivo, then showed that focal stimulation of Rac activity in one cell is sufficient to steer a whole group. Her lab has shown that the long protrusions that migratory cells extend serve as sensory structures that probe the micro-environment for tiny crevices, which provide an energetically favorable path. The protrusions integrate multiple inputs, including chemoattractant signaling, adhesion, and physical features, to select one migration path amongst many and thereby steer the group. The Montell lab developed widely-used organ culture and live imaging methods that have enabled many laboratories to discover previously unimagined dynamic processes in the fruit fly ovary. The Montell lab also studies the remarkable ability of cells from flies to mammals to recover from the brink of apoptotic cell death, a process they named anastasis.

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Primary Section

Section 22: Cellular and Developmental Biology

Secondary Section

Section 26: Genetics