Debra Silver

Associate Professor of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology
Associate Professor in Cell Biology
Associate Professor of Neurobiology
Investigator in the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences
Associate of the Duke Initiative for Science & Society
Member of the Duke Cancer Institute
Affiliate of the Regeneration Next Initiative
Email address:

Our laboratory studies embryonic brain development, focusing on the process of neurogenesis.  During neurogenesis of the cerebral cortex, neural progenitors produce neurons.  This process helps dictate the size, structure, and function of the adult brain. Moreover, aberrant neurogenesis can cause neurodevelopmental disorders such as microcephaly (reduced brain size associated with intellectual disability) and autism spectrum disorder. Despite the fundamental clinical relevance of neurogenesis, the mechanisms controlling this process remain poorly understood. Our goal is to help fill this void by elucidating genetic and cellular regulation of neural progenitors in the developing brain.

A major research direction of our lab is to understand mechanisms controlling brain size. We are especially interested in how post-transcriptional regulation influences dynamic neural progenitor behavior and function.  The RNA binding proteins studied are associated with neurodevelopmental pathologies including brain malformations.  A second focus of our research is to understand how regulatory sequences, termed enhancers, contribute to unique features of the human brain by modulating neural progenitor proliferation. The lab employs a repertoire of genetic and cell biological tools including mouse genetics, ex vivo and in vitro live imaging, genomics, and proteomics. Using multidisciplinary approaches give us mechanistic insights at molecular, cellular, and tissue levels.  Our long-term objective is to help broaden our fundamental understanding of how the brain is built, how stem cells behave, and the etiology of developmental diseases.

Education and Training

  • Tufts University, B.S. 1993
  • Johns Hopkins University, Ph.D. 2003
  • National Institutes of Health, Postdoctoral Fellowship, National Human Genome Research Institute

Associated Faculty Labs

Department Affiliation

  • Department of Molecular Genetics and Microbiology