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Layden Lab

The Layden Lab studies neural development in the sea anemone Nematostella vectensisNematostella is an important emerging system because it is a robust model for studying mechanisms that regulate neurogenesis during development and regeneration. Understanding the similarities and differences in how developmental programs are redeployed during regeneration will provide critical clues necessary to better design regenerative therapies for biomedical applications. 


Nematostella is also a cnidarian animal that possesses a nerve net rather than a central nervous system. Cnidarians (jellyfish, corals, sea anemones, hydras) are a phylogenetically pivotal group of animals because they are the closest relatives to the bilaterians (insects, annelids, mollusks, sea urchins, vertebrates). One characteristic of most bilaterians is the presence of a centralized nervous system. By investigating neurogenesis in cnidarians, we can infer the ancestral mechanisms that gave rise to and perhaps the evolutionary origin of the bilaterian central nervous system(s).

Herrera Lab


Former Members

Current Members

Michael Layden
Principal Investigator
Associate Professor
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Michael is a cnidarian neurobiologist trained at the University of Oregon.

Jamie Havrilak
Laboratory Manager


Layla Al-Shaer
Postdoctoral Researcher


Minghe Cheng
Graduate Researcher


Benjamin Danladi
Graduate Researcher


Joshua November
Graduate Researcher
Mia Yagodich
Undergraduate Researcher


Michael Alchaer
Undergraduate Researcher


Emma Roesing
Undergraduate Researcher

Former Members

Graduate Researcher





Al-Shaer, L., Leach, W., Baban, N., Yagodich, M., Gibson, M.C., & Layden, M.J. (2023) Environmental and molecular regulation of asexual reproduction in the sea anemone Nematostella vectensis. Royal Society Open Science 10 (6), 230152. doi:10.1098/rsos.230152

McCartin, L., Vohsen, S., Ambrose, S., Layden, M., McFadden, C. , Cordes, E., McDermott, J., & Herrera, S. (2022) Temperature Controls eDNA Persistence Across Physicochemical Conditions in Seawater. Env. Sci. & Technology. 56(12):8629 8639. doi:10.1021/acs.est.2c01672

Faltine-Gonzalez, D., Havrilak, J., *Layden MJ, (2021) The brain regulatory program predates central nervous system evolution. Scientific Reports. 13 (1), 8626. doi:10.1038/s41598-023-35721-4

Al-Shaer, L., Havrilak, JA., Layden, MJ, Ch.7. Nematostella vectensis. Agnès Boutet and Bernd Schierwater (Ed.) Established and Emerging Marine Organisms in Experimental Biology, CRC Press (2021)

Havrilak JA, Al-Shaer L, Baban N, Akinci N, Layden MJ. (2021) Characterization of the dynamics and variability of neuronal subtype responses during growth, degrowth, and regeneration of Nematostella vectensis. BMC Biology. doi: 10.1186/s12915-021-01038-9

Havrilak JA, Layden MJ. (2020) Reverse Genetic Approaches to Investigate the Neurobiology of the Cnidarian Sea Anemone Nematostella vectensis. In: Sprecher S. (eds) Brain Development. Methods in Molecular Biology, vol 2047. Humana, New York, NY. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-9732-9_2


Faltine-Gonzalez, Dylan Z, and Michael J Layden. “Characterization of nAChRs in Nematostella vectensis supports neuronal and non-neuronal roles in the cnidarian-bilaterian common ancestor.” EvoDevo vol. 10 27. 2 Nov. 2019, doi:10.1186/s13227-019-0136-3

Havrilak JA, Faltine-Gonzalez D, Wen Y, Fodera D, Simpson AC, Magie CR, Layden MJ. Characterization of NvLWamide-like neurons reveals stereotypy in Nematostella nerve net development. Developmental Biology. 2017 Sep 6.  doi: 10.1016/j.ydbio.2017.08.028

Layden, M.J., Johnston, H., Amiel, A.R., Havrilak, J., Steinworth, B., Chock, T., Roettinger, E., Martindale, M.Q. 2016. MAPK signaling is necessary for neurogenesis in Nematostella vectensis. BMC Biology.


Layden, M.J., Rentzch. F., Roettinger, E. 2015. The rise of the starlet sea anemone Nematostella vectensis as a model system to investigate development and regeneration. WIREs Development Biology.

Li, X., Martinson, A., Layden, M.J., Diatta, F., Sberna, A., Simmons, D., Martindale, M., Jegla, T. 2015. Ehter-a-go-go family voltage-gated K+ channels evolved in an ancestral metazoan and functionally diversified in a cnidarian-bilaterian ancestor. Journal of Experimental Biology. 218, 526-536 doi: 10.1242/jeb. 110080.


Baker, E., Layden, M.J. van Rossum, D., Kael, B., Medina, M., Simpson, E., Jegla, T. 2015. Functional Characterization of Cnidarian HCN Channels Points to an Early Evolution of Ih. PLOS One. DOI: 10.1371/journal.poine.0142730.


Layden, M.J., Martindale, M.Q., (2014) Non-canonical Notch signaling represents an ancestral mechanism to regulate neural differentiation. EvoDevo, 5:30 doi:10.1186/2041-9139-5-30 


Heckscher, E., Long, F., Layden, M.J., Chuang, C., Manning, L., Richart, J., Pearson J.C., Crews, S.T., Peng, H., Myers, E., Doe, C.Q., (2014) Atlas-builder software and the eNeuro atlas: resources for developmental biology and neuroscience. Development, doi:10.1242/dev.108720 


Martinson, A.P., van Rossum, D.B., Diatta, F.H., Layden, M.J., Rhodes, S.A., Martindale, M.Q., Jegla, T., (2014) Functional evolution of Erg Potassium Channel Gating reveals an ancient origin for IKr. PNAS doi:10.1073/pnas.1321716111


Layden, M.J., Wolenski, F.S., Roettinger, E, Gilmore, T.D., Martindale, M.Q., (2013) Microinjection of mRNA or morpholinos for reverse genetic analysis in the starlet sea anemone, Nematostella vecentsis. Nature Protocols 8: 924-34 doi: 10.1038/nprot.2013.009 


Wolenski, F.S., Layden, M.J., Martindale, M.Q., Gilmore T.D., Finnerty, J.R., (2013) Characterizing the spatiotemporal expression of RNAs and proteins in the starlet sea anemone, Nematostella vectensis.  Nature Protocols 8: 900-15 doi: 10.1038/nprot.2013.014 


Reitzel, A.M., Herrera, S., Layden, M.J., Martindale, M.Q., Shank, T.M., (2013) Going where traditional markers have not gone before: utility of and promise for RAD-sequencing in marine invertebrate phylogeography and population genomics. Molecular Ecology doi: 10.1111/mec.12228


*Layden, M.J., Boekhout, M., Martindale, M.Q. (2012) Nematostella vectensis achaete-scute homolog NvashA regulates embryonic ectodermal neurogenesis and represents an ancient component of the metazoan neural specification pathway. Development 139: 1013-22 doi: 10.1242/dev.073221 


Layden, M.J., Meyer, N.P., Pang, K., Seaver E.C., Martindale, M.Q. (2010), Expression and phylogenetic analysis of the zic gene family in the evolution and development of metazoans. EvoDevo, 1:12

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