Debra Silver, PhD

Associate Professor
Duke Institute for Brain Sciences Investigator

Headshot of Debra Silver, PhD224 CARL Building
Box 3175 DUMC
Durham, N.C. 27710
Phone: (919) 668-7909
Fax: (919) 684-2790


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Our laboratory studies embryonic brain development, with a specific focus on neurogenesis of the cerebral cortex. During neurogenesis, neural progenitor populations produce neurons. Precise control of progenitor divisions during development helps dictate the size, structure, and function of the adult brain. Aberrant neurogenesis can result in several neurodevelopmental disorders such as microcephaly (reduced brain size associated with intellectual disability) and autism spectrum disorder. The mechanisms that control neurogenesis remain poorly understood, which limits our ability to understand the etiology of these disorders. Our goal is to help fill this void by uncovering genetic and cellular regulation of neurogenesis.

A major research direction of our lab is to define genetic mechanisms of brain size, with a focus on post-transcriptional regulation. We study requirements for RNA binding proteins and for post-transcriptional regulation in dynamic neural progenitor behavior and function. The RNA binding proteins studied are also associated with neurodevelopmental pathology including brain malformations. A second focus of our research is to understand how genetic noncoding loci (termed human accelerated enhancers) contribute to unique features of the human brain. We study enhancers relevant for both brain size and neural progenitor proliferation.

The lab employs a repertoire of genetic and cell biological tools including mouse genetics, ex vivo and in vitro live imaging, and genomics. Using multidisciplinary approaches helps give us mechanistic insights at molecular, cellular, and organismal 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.

Please see our lab website ( for more detailed information on research projects in the lab.

 Debby Silver_brain image_Research Photo 4Debby Silver_microcephaly_Research Photo 6Debby Silver-Research photo 5