Dr. Gruss

Michael Gruss, PhD


Michael received his Ph.D. degree in Cellular and Microbial biology from the Catholic University of America under the advisement of Dr. Ann Corsi in 2023. The Corsi lab uses Caenorhabditis elegans as a model system to study HLH-8, which is a basic helix-loop-helix (bHLH) transcription factor that functions in tissue-specific development. HLH-8 is the homolog of TWIST1 in vertebrates. In humans, loss of function (LOF) mutations in TWIST1 result in the craniofacial disease Saethre-Chotzen Syndrome (SCS), which is characterized by craniosynostosis, or the premature fusion of the cranial sutures that are important for proper infant skull development. Most of the mutations associated with disease occur in the basic DNA binding domain and the dimerization helix-loop-helix domain. However, there also is the TWIST-Box domain at the C-terminus of TWIST1 that plays an important role in both transcriptional repression and activation. Several SCS patient mutations have been found in the TWIST-Box domain. TWIST1 and HLH-8 share a large amount of sequence identity in their bHLH regions, however the domain responsible for the transcriptional activity of HLH-8 is unknown. Michael utilized CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing to construct disruptive and SCS patient mutations to the analogous TWIST-Box domain in HLH-8 to ask how these alterations could impact HLH-8 structure as well as transcriptional function.

Michael is proud to be back in the Pittsburgh area, as he has his hometown roots in the Latrobe, PA area. In his free time, he is a happy husband, father, family-man, and enjoys being active in the gym or on a hockey rink and is a die-hard Pittsburgh Penguins fan.