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Department of Biological Sciences

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Shannon Davis

Department of Biology
University of South Carolina

Office: CLS 503
Phone Number: (803) 777-8349
Photo of Dr. Davis

The pituitary gland plays a critical role in regulating a wide range of physiological processes, including reproduction, growth, metabolism, and stress response. These processes are regulated through the secretion of hormones that affect specific target organs such as the liver, thyroid, and gonads. As a consequence, lesions in genes involved in pituitary development that result in multiple pituitary hormone deficiencies (MPHD) can have profound effects on multiple physiological processes. Many genes that cause MPHD are transcription factors necessary for the embryonic development of the pituitary gland. For instance, loss of PROP1, which is a homeodomain containing transcription factor, can result in an absence of growth hormone (GH), thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), prolactin (PRL), luteinizing hormone (LH), and progressive loss of adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH) in humans. Mice containing null mutations in Prop1 also display a similar phenotype (Davis et al 2010). Understanding how the pituitary gland forms and how each hormone producing cell type is specified provides critical insight into the central role the pituitary gland plays in vertebrate physiology.

Research in my lab is focused on four areas concerning pituitary gland organogenesis:
1. Morphogenesis of the pituitary gland, especially how signaling factors such as Bmp, Fgf, Wnt, and Shh contribute to the proper size, shape, and location of the pituitary gland.
2. Cell specification of the pituitary gland, especially determining when the five cell types of the anterior lobe are specified and what signaling factors are necessary.
3. Determination of the cis-regulatory elements necessary for the transcription of Prop1, a homeobox gene necessary for development of the pituitary gland.
4. Development of the zebrafish model system as a high throughput assay and gene discovery tool for pituitary organogenesis.


Xie, H, Hoffmann HM, Meadows JD, Mayo SL, Trang C, Leming SS, Maruggi C, Davis SW, Larder R, Mellon PL. 2015. Homeodomain Proteins Six3 and Six6 Regulate Gonadotrope-specific Genes During Pituitary Development. Molecular Endocrinology. 29(6):842-855.

Orciani M, Davis S, Appolloni G, Lazzarini R, Mattioli-Belmonte M, Ricciuti RA, Boscaro M, Di Primio R, Arnaldi G. 2015. Isolation and characterization of progenitor mesenchymal cells in human pituitary tumors. Cancer Gene Therapy. 22(1):9-16.

Davis, SW; Ellsworth, BS; Peréz-Millan, MI; Gergics, P; Schade, V; Foyouzi, N; Brinkmeier, ML; Mortensen, AH; Camper, SA. 2013. Pituitary gland development and disease: from stem cell to hormone production. Current Topics in Developmental Biology 106:1-47.

Pérez-Millán, M; Zeidler, MG; Saunders, TL; Camper, SA; Davis, SW.  2013. Efficient, specific, developmentally appropriate cre-mediated recombination in anterior pituitary gonadotropes and thyrotropes.  Genesis 51: 785-792.

Davis, SW; Mortensen, AH; Camper, SA. 2011. Birthdating studies reshape models for pituitary gland cell specification. Developmental Biology. 352:215 - 227.

Davis, SW; Castinetti, F; Carvalho, LR; Ellsworth,BS; Potok, MA; Lyons, RH; Brinkmeier, ML; Raetzman, LT; Carninci, P; Mortensen, AH; Hayashizaki, Y; Arnhold, IJP; Mendonca, BB; Brue, T; Camper, SA. 2010. Molecular mechanisms of pituitary organogenesis: in search of novel regulatory genes. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology. 323:4 - 19.

Davis, SW and Camper, SA. 2007. Noggin regulates Bmp4 activity during pituitary induction. Developmental Biology . 305:145 - 160.

Davis, SW; Miura, S; Hill, C; Mishina, Y; and Klingensmith, J. 2004. BMP Receptor 1A is required in the mammalian embryo for endodermal morphogenesis and ectodermal patterning. Developmental Biology . 270:47 - 63.