How Outlier Cells Emerge from Genetically Uniform Populations
Research in the Spencer lab is focused on understanding how signaling events control cell fate. Studying signal transduction in single cells reveals remarkable cell-to-cell variability in response to stimuli, even among genetically identical cells in a controlled environment. We seek to understand the causes and consequences of this heterogeneity in the cellular response to stimuli, with an eye toward determining how outlier cells emerge from genetically uniform populations. To address these questions, we develop and multiplex genetically encoded fluorescent sensors for signaling events of interest. We then use long-term live-cell microscopy and cell tracking to quantify the dynamics of multiple upstream signals, and use computational analyses to link signal dynamics to individual cell fates (proliferation, quiescence, apoptosis). In the long term, we hope to apply these methods to pinpoint rogue signals that allow cancer cells to escape the action of therapeutic drugs.