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Senior Investigator

Ward F. Odenwald, Ph.D.

Neural Cell-Fate Determinants Section

Porter Neuroscience Research Center
Building 35 Room 1B-1014
35 Convent Drive MSC 4130
Bethesda MD 20892-4130
Office: (301) 402-1657
Lab: (301) 496-5940
Fax: (301) 496-1339
odenwaldw@ninds.nih.gov

Dr. Odenwald received his Ph.D. degree in Biology from Johns Hopkins University. His postdoctoral work on the functional analysis of the murine homeobox gene Hox A.5 was carried out in the laboratory of Robert Lazzerini at the NINDS. In 1990, he established the Neurogenetics Unit in the Laboratory of Neurochemistry, NINDS, where he has pursued the identification and functional analysis of neuronal-identity networks that control stem cell lineage development in the CNS. Dr. Odenwald's laboratory is currently studying the role of transcription factor regulatory networks that participate in the temporal development of Drosophila CNS ganglia.



In a developing nervous system, the precise timing of cell identity decisions is most likely under the combinatorial control of cell-extrinsic and cell-intrinsic regulatory inputs. To understand how these orchestrated events collectively produce a functioning nervous system it is necessary to characterize the genetic circuitry underlying the patterning of cell-fate determining events. Given the remarkable gene conservation observed among all metazoa, we believe that understanding the molecular details of Drosophila CNS lineage development will have broad implications for vertebrate neurogenesis. Our studies reveal that there exists a cell-identity regulatory network that acts temporally during the formation of all CNS ganglia. We have discovered that during neural precursor cell lineage development most neuroblasts undergo sequential transitions in the expression of a set of transcription factors: As a result sequentially formed neuronal subpopulations arise that are marked by the expression of one of these factors. Given the global nature of this regulatory cascade, we hypothesize that these expression domains represent fundamental branch points in the developmental programs that control cell-fate decisions in all CNS ganglia.

To gain insight into how neuroblasts transition from one developmental program to the next, we have focused our research efforts on the identification and functional analysis of gene regulatory DNA regions, called enhancers, that control the expression of these transcription factor genes. Thus far, we have discovered that each factor is regulated by multiple enhancers that control different aspects of their expression (view examples at our cisPatterns web site). Using multi-genome DNA alignment programs, developed by in our lab: EvoPrinter and cis-Decoder, we have taken advantage of the cumulative evolutionary DNA sequence divergence that exists among species to identify highly conserved DNA sequences within each of the enhancers. Mutational analysis of these sequences reveals that each is required by normal gene control. Currently, we are adapting our comparative genomic tools so other scientists can use them to study vertebrate enhancers. To learn more about how EvoPrints help us identify important DNA sequences, visit the NIH Evolution and Medicine tutorial.


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  • 1) Kuzin, A., Kundu, M., Ross, J., Koizum,i K., Brody, T. and Odenwald, W.F. (2012)
  • The cis-regulatory dynamics of the Drosophila CNS determinant castor are controlled by multiple sub-pattern enhancers
  • Gene Expression Patterns 9, 12(7-8), 261-272
  • 2) Yu F, Wang Z, Tchantchou F, Chiu C-T, Zhang Y and Chuang D-M (2011)
  • Lithium ameliorates neurodegeneration, suppresses neuroinflammation and improves behavioral performance in a mouse model of traumatic brain injury
  • J Neurotrauma (advance online)
  • 3) Beardsley, P., Stuhlsatz, M.A.M., Kruse, R.A, Eckstrand, I.A., Gordon, S.D. and Odenwald, W.F. (2011)
  • Evolution and medicine: an inquiry-based high school curriculum supplement
  • Evolution: Education and Outreach, 11, 00037R1
  • 4) Kuzin A, Kundu M, Brody T, Odenwald WF (2011)
  • Functional analysis of conserved sequences within a temporally restricted neural precursor cell enhancer.
  • Neural Cell-Fate Determinants Section
  • 5) Kuzin A, Kundu M, Ekatomatis A, Brody T, Odenwald WF (2009)
  • Conserved sequence block clustering and flanking inter-cluster flexibility delineate enhancers that regulate nerfin-1 expression during Drosophila CNS development.
  • Gene Expr Patterns, 9, 65-72
  • 6) Brody T, Yavatkar AS, Lin Y, Ross J, Kuzin A, Kundu M, Fann Y, Odenwald WF (2008)
  • Horizontal gene transfers link a human MRSA pathogen to contagious bovine mastitis bacteria.
  • PLoS One , 3, e3074
  • 7) Yavatkar A. S., Lin Y., Ross, J., Fann Y., Brody T. and Odenwald W. F. (2008)
  • Rapid detection and curation of conserved DNA via enhanced-BLAT and EvoPrinterHD analysis.
  • BMC Genomics, 9, 106-118
  • 8) Brody, T., Rasband, W., Baler, K., Kuzin, A., Kundu, M. and Odenwald W. F. (2008)
  • Sequence conservation and combinatorial complexity of Drosophila neural precursor cell enhancers.
  • BMC Genomics, 9, R371
  • 9) Brody T, Rasband W, Baler K, Kuzin A, Kundu M, Odenwald WF (2007)
  • cis-Decoder discovers constellations of conserved DNA sequences shared among tissue-specific enhancers
  • Genome Biol, 8(5):R75
  • 10) Kuzin A, Kundu M, Brody T, Odenwald WF (2007)
  • The Drosophila nerfin-1 mRNA requires multiple microRNAs to regulate its spatial and temporal translation dynamics in the developing nervous system
  • Developmental Biology, 310, 35-43
  • 11) Brody T, Odenwald WF (2005)
  • Regulation of temporal identities during Drosophila neuroblast lineage development
  • Curr Opin Cell Biol, 17(6), 672-5
  • 12) Odenwald WF, Rasband W, Kuzin A, Brody T (2005)
  • EVOPRINTER, a multigenomic comparative tool for rapid identification of functionally important DNA
  • Proc Natl Acad Sci , 102, 14700-5
  • 13) Brody T, Odenwald WF (2005)
  • Regulation of temporal identities during Drosophila neuroblast lineage development
  • Curr Opin Cell Biol, 17, 672-5
  • 14) Kuzin A, Brody T, Moore AW, Odenwald WF. (2005)
  • Nerfin-1 is required for early axon guidance decisions in the developing Drosophila CNS
  • Dev Biol, 277(2), 347-65
  • 15) Odenwald WF. (2005)
  • Changing fates on the road to neuronal diversity
  • Dev Cell, 8(2), 133-4
  • 16) Hallsson JH, Haflidadottir BS, Stivers C, Odenwald W, Arnheiter H, Pignoni F, Steingrimsson E. (2004)
  • The basic helix-loop-helix leucine zipper transcription factor Mitf is conserved in Drosophila and functions in eye development
  • Genetics, 167(1), 233-41
  • 17) Broihier HT, Kuzin A, Zhu Y, Odenwald W, Skeath JB. (2004)
  • Drosophila homeodomain protein Nkx6 coordinates motoneuron subtype identity and axonogenesis
  • Development, 131(21), 5233-42
  • 18) Koizumi K, Lintas C, Nirenberg M, Maeng JS, Ju JH, Mack JW, Gruschus JM, Odenwald WF, Ferretti JA. (2003)
  • Mutations that affect the ability of the vnd/NK-2 homeoprotein to regulate gene expression: transgenic alterations and tertiary structure
  • Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A., 100(6), 3119-24
  • 19) Brody T, Stivers C, Nagle J, Odenwald WF. (2002)
  • Identification of novel Drosophila neural precursor genes using a differential embryonic head cDNA screen
  • Mech Dev, 113(1), 41-59
  • 20) Shao, X., Koizumi, K, Nosworthy, N., Tan, D. P., Odenwald, W. and Nirenberg, M. (2002)
  • Regulatory DNA required for vnd/NK-2 homeobox gene expression pattern in neuroblasts.
  • Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. , 99, 113-7
  • 21) Brody, T., Odenwald, W. F. (2002)
  • Cellular diversity in the developing nervous system: a temporal view from Drosophila
  • Development , 129, 3763-70
  • 22) Koizumi, K., Stivers, C., Brody, T., Zangeneh, S., Mozer, B. and Odenwald, W.F. (2001)
  • A search for Drosophila neuronal precursor genes identifies ran.
  • Development Genes and Evolution, 211, 67-75
  • 23) Stivers C., Brody T., Kuzin A. and Odenwald W.F. (2000)
  • Nerfin-1 and -2, novel Drosophila Zn-finger transcription factor genes expressed in the developing nervous system
  • Mechanisms of Development, 97, 205-210
  • 24) Brody T, Odenwald WF. (2000)
  • Programmed transformations in neuroblast gene expression during Drosophila CNS lineage development.
  • Dev. Biol., 226, 34-44.
  • 25) Kambadur, R., Koizumi, K., Stivers, C., Nagle, J., Poole, S.J. and Odenwald, W.F. (1998)
  • Regulation of POU genes by castor and hunchback establishes layered compartments in the Drosophila CNS
  • Genes & Development , 12(2), 246-260
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