Nathaniel Heintz, Ph.D.

Professor; Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Rockefeller University Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

Dr. Heintz’s lab is interested in the isolation and analysis of specific genes that mark critical events in the central nervous system’s formation. Over the past decade, molecular genetic screens performed in the Heintz laboratory have identified of a variety of genes crucial to development, function and dysfunction of the mammalian nervous system.

In the late 1990s, Dr. Heintz perfected a technique involving bacterial artificial chromosomes (BACs). The method allowed him to use large pieces of DNA—including the gene, its regulatory region, and reporter genes—that could be easily manipulated in test tubes and in the genetic engineering of animals. Reporter genes fluoresce and make gene expression in different cells visible under the microscope.

These methods are the foundation of an ongoing large scale effort, GENSAT, led by Dr. Heintz and Mary E. Hatten, to provide a molecular cartography of the mammalian brain, and to identify BAC vectors for manipulation of specific CNS cell populations. The effort will eventually visualize the expression pattern of each of approximately 5,000 genes in the different cell types of the brain.

The Heintz laboratory is now engaged in the utilization of BAC vectors targeting defined CNS cell populations, and the application of a variety of novel genetic techniques, to molecularly characterize specific cell populations that contribute to the development and functional properties of the cerebral cortex and other brain structures. The laboratory is using these approaches, in collaboration with Paul Greengard, to study the properties of the normal mouse brain and to discover molecular and cellular mechanisms contributing to the profound neurological and cognitive problems associated with ataxia telangectasia and autism spectrum disorders including Rett Syndrome.

Dr. Heintz graduated from Williams College with a B.A. in biology in 1974. He received his Ph.D. from the State University of New York at Albany in 1979 and then worked as a postdoc at Washington University in St. Louis until 1982. He received a Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Cancer Fund postdoctoral fellowship in 1979, a National Institutes of Health postdoctoral fellowship in 1981, was named a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences in 1985, and was granted the American Cancer Society Junior Faculty Research Award in 1986. In 1983 he joined Rockefeller University, where he has been James and Marilyn Simons Professor sinice 2006.

He is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

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