Murali C. Pillai

Professor of Biology & Chair of the SSU Health Professions Advisory Program
Ph.D. University of California (Davis), 1988
Voicemail: (707) 664- 2981
Office: Darwin 214

Postdoctoral Experience:

University of California (Davis) Schol of Medicine; Bodega Marine Laboratory (UC Davis).

Research Interests:

Cell Biology and Physiology of Fertilization and Early Embryonic Development; Cellular and Molecular Pathways of Embryonic Axis Specification; Developmental Toxicology.

Course Offerings:

Molecular and Cell Biology; Developmental Biology; Cell Biology; Advanced Cell Biology; Introduction to Careers in the Health Professions.

Research Program:

Current research in my lab focuses on the developmental effects of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH), a class of organic xenobiotics that have been shown to contribute to human and other animal health risk through their carcinogenic, genotoxic and teratogenic effects. Our earlier studies have shown that PAHs, some of which are known to be potent environmental carcinogens, disrupt axis development in animal embryos via a β-catenin dependent molecular pathway (the Wnt/ β-catenin signaling pathway).  Using early embryos of sea urchins, we currently investigate:

1) the relationship between PAH exposure, nuclear accumulation β-catenin (a highly conserved multifunctional protein that regulates cell-cell adhesion as well as gene transcription via Wnt pathway), and abnormal embryonic axis specification; and,

2) the effects of PAHs on the activity of Glycogen Synthase Kinase (GSK)-3β (a crucial component of the Wnt pathway) and its ability to regulate cytosolic stability of β-catenin.

In addition, zebrafish (Danio rerio) early embryos are used to investigate the subcellular and molecular effects of PAHs on somite development (including muscle cell proliferation) and differentiation.

Interested undergraduates and prospective graduate students may contact me at for more information about these research projects.

Representative Publications:

Yanagimachi, R., Cherr, G.N., Matsubara, T., Andoh, T., Harumi, T., Vines, C., Pillai, M.C., Griffin, F., Matsubara, H., Weatherby, T. and Kaneshiro, K. 2013.  Sperm attractant in the micropyle region of fish and insect eggs possess a sperm attractant that helps to guide sperm into the micropyle during fertilization.  Biol. Reprod. (in press)

Pillai, M.C., Vines, C.A. and Cherr, G.N. 2010. Developmental effects of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons: disruption of embryonic axis development in sea urchins through a β-catenin dependent pathway. Biotechnological Solutions to Environmental Sustainability, Vellore Institute of Technology Press, India.

Cherr, G.N., Morisawa, M., Vines, C.A., Yoshida, K., Smith, E.H., Matsubara, T., Pillai, M.C., Griffin, F.J. and Yanagimachi, R. 2008. Two egg derived molecules in sperm motility initiation in the Pacific herring (Clupea pallasi). International Journal of Developmental Biology, 52: 743-752.

Vines, C.A., M.C. Pillai, A.H. Wikramanayake, and G.N. Cherr. In preparation. Exogastrulation in sea urchin embryos: A direct role for Glycogen Synthase Kinase (GSK) -3 beta.

Pillai, M.C., Vines. C.A., Wikramanayake, A.H and Cherr, G.N. 2003. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons disrupt axial development in sea urchin embryos through beta-catenin dependent pathway. Toxicology 186:93-108.

Vines, C.A., Kiroku, K. Griffin, F.J. Pillai, M.C., Morisawa, M., Yanagimachi, R. and Cherr. G.N. 2002. Motility initiation in herring sperm is regulated by reverse sodium-calcium exchange. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99:2026-2031.

Griffin, F. J., M. C. Pillai, C. A. Vines, T. Hibbard-Robbins, R. Yanagimachi, and G. N. Cherr. 1998. Effect of salinity on fertilization and development in herring. Biological Bulletin 194:25-35.

Pillai, M.C., H. S. Blethrow, R. M. Higashi, and G. N. Cherr. 1997. Inhibition of the sea urchin sperm acrosome reaction by a lignin-derived macromolecule. Aquatic Toxicology 37:139-156.

Griffin, F.J., C. A. Vines, M. C. Pillai, R. Yanagimachi, R. and G. N. Cherr. 1996. The sperm motility initiation factor (SMIF) of the Pacific herring egg chorion: A minor component of major function. Development, Growth & Differentiation 38:193-202.