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Our lab explores how blood vessels function in development and disease. 

    A single person’s blood vessels will wrap around the earth four times if stretched end-to-end. With this in mind, it is no surprise that blood vessels are absolutely required for survival and are the first organ system to form embryonically. In a process called angiogenesis, endothelial cells, the most basic unit of blood vessels, proliferate, migrate and collectively move to form a complex and expansive vasculature system allowing nutrient penetration to every cell in our bodies. How individual endothelial cells collectively orchestrate such morphogenic feats in a reproducible and stereotyped fashion is unclear. More specifically, how endothelial cells harness intrinsic cytoskeletal programs to move, polarize, communicate with their neighbors and engage their immediate surroundings during angiogenesis is not very well understood, particularly in disease states such as cancer.  

    To better understand angiogenic processes, our laboratory uses state-of-the-art microscopy techniques and live-imaging, using fluorescently-tagged versions of cytoskeletal regulatory proteins in vitro and in vivo. This allows us to examine cell behavior and cellular processes during dynamic events of morphogenesis, such as lumen formation. In addition to cell culture and organotypic models of angiogenesis, our lab heavily relies on zebrafish as an experimental platform of vascular development. Zebrafish are fantastic model organisms for blood vessel research as they have extra-uterine development and are completely transparent early in life, allowing for imaging of complex morphogenetic events in vivo.  Importantly, this model system also allows us to leverage novel CRISPR/Cas9 technologies and other genetic approaches for genomic editing, creation of light-inducible gene expression systems,  conditional tissue-specific gene knockouts and other perturbations for dissecting the contribution of various signaling circuits to angiogenesis during development or in disease-related vascular dysfunction. 

   We are currently exploring how endothelial cells use cell-cell adhesions called tight junctions, to inform rearrangement of the actin and microtubule cytoskeleton for cell polarization during vascular network formation.  We are genetically ablating cell contractile machinery components and/or specific Rho GTPase superfamily proteins using CRISPR-based homologous recombination targeting in zebrafish to determine how these program influence junctional integrity and cell polarity.  In a separate project, we are investigating how a family of proteins called synaptotagmin-like proteins contribute to lumen formation by helping to specify apical-basal polarity in endothelial cells during lumenigenesis. To do this we are again using genomic targeting techniques such as endogenous protein tagging coupled with advanced light microscopy to best understand the “when” and “where” of synaptotagmin’s involvement in endothelial lumen formation during development. Overall, our research is dedicated to understanding blood vessels form and how these processes go wrong in various disease states for advancement of next-generation therapies. 


Erich Kushner, Ph.D

Principal Investigator

2000-04 B.S., Cellular and Molecular Biology - Fort Lewis College - Durango, CO

2006-10 Ph.D., Integrative Physiology - University of Colorado - Boulder, CO

2010-16, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, NC

2016-Present, Assistant Professor, University of Denver- Denver, CO

Caitlin Francis

Scientist by day, triathlete by night

MCBP doctoral candidate

Projects: Synaptotagmin and Rab35-based trafficking during angiogenic development


Rachael Judson

MCBP Graduate Student

Project: EHD2 and cytoskeletal function during blood vessel development


Major: Biology/Biochemistry

“Shirley Temple Connoisseur”

Makenzie Bell

Makenzie Bell




Erich Kushner, Ph.D

Principal Investigator and lobster enthusiast

2000-04 B.S., Cellular and Molecular Biology - Fort Lewis College - Durango, CO

2006-10 Ph.D., Integrative Physiology - University of Colorado - Boulder, CO

2010-16, Postdoctoral Fellow, University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, NC

2016-2023, Assistant Professor, University of Denver- Denver, CO

2023-Present, Associate Professor, University of Denver- Denver, CO

Maya Kaul

Pun master!

Biological Sciences Graduate Student


Drew Grespin

Biology Masters Student
Project: Micropatterning and spatially-restricted trafficking in blood vessels

Nickname - Aqua Man

Jasper Farrington

Biological Sciences Graduate Student

Project: Mediators of Weibel-Palade body trafficking

jasper photo.jpg

Jack Kurlinski


Major: Biology/Biochemistry


Jessica Friedman


Major: Biology


Talen Niven

Biological Science Graduate Student

Projects: Cell geometry, micropatterns and microfluidic impacts on endothelial function

Nickname- 'The hair'


Joe Capozzi

Biological Science Graduate Student

Projects: Trafficking mediators of vascular lumen formation

Nickname- 'The beard'


Caitlin Francis Ph.D. - Graduate studnet
Current: Postdoctoral Fellow, Yale
Makenzie Bell- Undergraduate researcher

Marina Skripnichuck- Undergraduate researcher

Rachael Judson- Masters student

Stephen Gross Ph.D.- G
raduate student

Amelia Webb- Masters student
Current- Idaho College of Osteopathic Medicine

Halye Kincross- Former undergraduate researcher
Current: BC Cancer Research Institute, graduate student

Alek Peterlin- Former undergraduate researcher
Current: University of Utah, Ph.D. candidate

Shae Claflin- Former undergraduate researcher
Current: University of Colorado, Medical student



Francis CR, *Kincross H, Kushner EJ. Rab35 governs apicobasal polarity through regulation of actin dynamics during sprouting angiogenesis. Nat Commun. 2022 Sep 8;13(1):5276. doi: 10.1038/s41467-022-32853-5. PMID: 36075898.

Francis CR, Kushner EJ. Trafficking in blood vessel development. Angiogenesis. 2022 Aug;25(3):291-305. doi: 10.1007/s10456-022-09838-5. Epub 2022 Apr 21. Review. PubMed PMID: 35449244

Webb AM, Francis CR, Judson RJ, Kincross H, Lundy KM, Westhoff DE, Meadows SM, Kushner EJ. EHD2 modulates Dll4 endocytosis during blood vessel development. Microcirculation. 2021. PMID: 34820962

Francis, C.R. and E.J. Kushner, Capturing membrane trafficking events during 3D angiogenic development in vitro. Microcirculation, 202. PMID: 34415654

Gross SJ, Webb AM, Peterlin AD, Durrant JR, Judson RJ, Raza Q, Kitajewski JK, Kushner EJ. Notch Regulates Vascular Collagen IV Basement Membrane Through Modulation of Lysyl Hydroxylase 3 Trafficking. Angiogenesis. 2021. PMID: 33956260

Francis CR, Claflin S, Kushner EJ. Synaptotagmin-Like Protein 2a Regulates Angiogenic. Lumen Formation via Weibel-Palade Body Apical Secretion of Angiopoietin-2. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2021. PMID: 33853352.

Payne LB, Darden J, Suarez-Martinez AD, Zhao H, Hendricks A, Hartland C, Chong D, Kushner EJ, Murfee WL, Chappell JC. Pericyte migration and proliferation are tightly synchronized to endothelial cell sprouting dynamics.

Integr Biol (Camb). PMID: 33515222

Buglak DB, Kushner EJ, Marvin AP, Davis KL, Bautch VL. Excess centrosomes disrupt vascular lumenization and endothelial cell adherens junctions. Angiogenesis. 2020. PMID: 32699963

Yu Z, Mouillesseaux KP, Kushner EJ, Bautch VL. Tumor-Derived Factors and Reduced p53 Promote Endothelial Cell Centrosome Over-Duplication. PLoS One. 2016. PMID: 2797777

Mouillesseaux K., Wiley D., Saunders L., Wylie L., Kushner E., Chong D., Citrin K., Barber A., Park Y., Kim J., Samsa L.A., Kim J., Liu J., Jin W., Bautch V. Notch Regulates BMP Responsiveness and Lateral Branching in Vessel Networks via SMAD6. Nature Communications. 2016. PMID: 27834400

Kushner EJ, LS Ferro, Z Yu and VL. Bautch. Excess Centrosomes Perturb Dynamic Endothelial Cell Repolarization During Blood Vessel Formation. Mol Biol Cell. 2016. PMID:27099371  

Wright CE, EJ Kushner, Q Du, and VL Bautch. LGN Directs Interphase Endothelial Cell Behavior via the Microtubule Network. PLoS One. 2015. PMID:26398908

KR. Klein, NO Karpinich, ST Espenshied, HH Willcockson, WP Dunworth, SL. Hoopes, EJ Kushner, VL Bautch, and KM Caron. Decoy Receptor CXCR7 Modulates Adrenomedullin-Mediated Cardiac and Lymphatic Vascular Development. Dev Cell. 2014.  PMID:25203207

Kushner EJ, LS Ferro, JY Liu, JR Durrant, SL Rogers, AC Dudley, VL Bautch. Excess centrosomes disrupt endothelial cell migration via centrosome scattering. J Cell Biol. 2014. PMID:25049273

Charpentier MS, Christine KS, Amin NM, Dorr KM, Kushner EJ, Bautch VL, Taylor JM, Conlon FL. CASZ1 promotes vascular assembly and morphogenesis through the direct regulation of an EGFL7/RhoA-mediated pathway. Dev Cell. 2013. PMID:23639441

Kushner EJ, Bautch VL. Building blood vessels in development and disease. Curr Opin Hematol. 2013. PMID:23567339

Diehl KJ, Weil BR, Westby CM, MacEneaney OJ, Kushner EJ, Greiner JJ, DeSouza CA. Effects of Endothelin-1 on Endothelial Progenitor Cell Function. Clin Chem Lab Med. 2012. PMID:22706256

Weil BR, Kushner EJ, Diehl KJ, Greiner JJ, Stauffer BL, DeSouza CA. CD31+ T cells, Endothelial Function and Cardiovascular Risk. Heart Lung Circ. 201.

Kushner EJ, Weil BR, MacEneaney OJ, Morgan RG, Mestek ML, Van Guilder GP, Diehl KJ, Stauffer BL, DeSouza CA.Human Aging and CD31+ T-cell Number, Migration, Apoptotic Susceptibility, and Telomere Length. J Appl Physiol. 2010.  PMCID:  PMC3006402

MacEneaney OJ, DeSouza CA, Weil BR, Kushner EJ, Van Guilder GP, Mestek ML, Greiner JJ, Stauffer BL. Prehypertension and Endothelial Progenitor Cell Function. J Hum Hypertens. 2011.  PMCID: PMC:2895004

MacEneaney OJ, Kushner EJ, Westby CM, Cech JN, Greiner JJ, Stauffer BL, DeSouza CA. Endothelial Progenitor Cell Function, Apoptosis, and Telomere Length in Overweight/Obese Humans. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010. PMCID:  PMC2643316


Kushner E, GL Hoetzer, OJ MacEneaney, JJ Greiner, JN Cech, BL Stauffer, CA DeSouza. Aging and Endothelial Progenitor Cell Release of Proangiogenic Cytokines. Age Ageing. 2010. PMCID: PMC2842112

Klawitter J, J Klawitter, E Kushner, KR Jonscher, J Bendrick-Peart, U Christians, V Schmitz, Association of Immunosuppressant-Induced Protein Changes in the Rat Kidney with Changes in Urine Metabolite Patterns: A Proteo-Metobonomic Study. J Proteome Res. 2010.

Kushner EJ, RG Morgan, AM Van Engelenburg, OJ MacEneaney, GP Van Guilder, CA DeSouza. CD31+ T Cells Represent a Functionally Distinct Vascular T Cell Phenotype. Blood Cells, Molecules and Diseases. 2010.

MacEneaney OJ, EJ Kushner, GP Van Guilder, JJ Greiner, BL Stauffer, CA DeSouza. Endothelial Progenitor Cell Number and Colony-Forming Capacity in Overweight and Obese Adults. International Journal of Obesity. 2009. PMC2643316

Kushner EJ, GP Van Guilder, OJ MacEneaney, JN Cech, AJ Zaug, BL Stauffer, CA DeSouza. Aging and Endothelial Progenitor Cell Telomere Length in Healthy Men. Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine. 2009. PMC2646422

Stauffer BL, OJ MacEneaney, EJ Kushner, JN Cech, JJ Greiner, CM Westby, CA DeSouza. Gender and Endothelial Progenitor Cell Number in Middle-Aged Adults. Artery Research. 2008.  PMCID: PMC2636711

Stauffer BL, Kushner EJ, Wulfman T, Zeller T, Sobus R, Westby CM. Transcriptional Regulation of Beta2-Microglobulin Demonstrated via a Novel Genomic and Proteomic Analysis of Percutaneously Collected Peripheral Atheroma. Clin Transl Sci. 2008. PMCID: PMC20443854

Stauffer BL, R Sobus, EJ Kushner, CM Westby T Wulfman, T Zeller. Feasibility of Molecular Analysis of Percutaneously Collected Peripheral Atheroma. Excerpta Medica Inc-Elsevier Science Inc, 2007.







Inquisitive minds who are interested in conducting research as a career look in our masters and PhD programs in biology. 



I highly recommend this program as it grants students access to multiple departments (Chemistry, Biochemistry, Biology, Physics) for first year rotations and its curriculum is specifically geared towards interdisciplinary training.


Highly motivated individuals are encouraged to contact Dr. Kushner directly. 



Erich Kushner, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor
Molecular and Cellular Biophysics Program
Dept. of Biological Sciences
University of Denver

Office: 303-871-4386
Lab: 303-871-3537


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