The University of Texas Medical School at Houston
Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics

Heidi B. Kaplan, Ph.D.


  • Heidi B. Kaplan, Ph.D.Associate Professor
  • Department of Microbiology &
    Molecular Genetics
  • University of Texas-Houston Medical School
    6431 Fannin Street, MSB 1.170
    Houston, Texas 77030
  • Telephone: (713) 500-5448
    Laboratory Telephone: (713) 500-5449



Ph.D., Cornell University, 1986

Postdoctoral Fellow, Stanford University

Research Interests:

Cell-cell interactions required for multicellular development and
biofilm formation

Cell-cell interactions and signal transduction pathways orchestrate development in all multicellular organisms. Our research focuses on the interactions and signaling pathways that direct the initiation of multicellular development in a simple model system, Myxococcus xanthus. M. xanthus is a gram-negative soil bacterium that exhibits social behaviors as it senses and responds to its environment and communicates with its neighbors. These abilities allow the cells to survive starvation by forming a mound-shaped structure termed a fruiting body in which about 100,000 rod-shaped cells differentiate into environmentally resistant spherical myxospores. This developmental program is initiated by starvation at high density. The starvation pathway senses nutrient limitation and the A signal transduction pathway senses cell density. The output of these pathways is integrated and controls the increase in the transcription of developmentally expressed genes such as 4521. Using molecular, genetic, and biochemical techniques we are identifying and characterizing the components of these signaling pathways, including SasS, SasR, SasN, which map to the sasB locus.

A second focus of our research is the analysis of cell motility. The M. xanthus fruiting body can be considered a single-species biofilm, similar to that of Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which causes persistent and chronic lung infections in cystic fibrosis patients. We are studying the cell-surface components necessary for the flagella-independent surface motility, termed social gliding, that initiates biofilm formation.

    Currently, we are:
  • continuing our structural and functional analysis of the transducer/regulators encoded by the sasB and other loci.
  • characterizing the function and regulation of 4521 and the other target genes of these pathways.
  • analyzing the link between lipopolysaccharide O-antigen biosynthesis, 4521 gene expression, and social gliding motility.

Selected Publications:

  • Yang Z, Guo D, Bowden MG, Sun H, Tong L, Li Z, Brown AE, Kaplan HB, Shi W (2000) The Myxococcus xanthus wbgB gene encodes a glycosyltransferase homologue required for lipopolysaccharide O-antigen biosynthesis. Arch Microbiol 174:399 [abstract]
  • O'Toole G, Kaplan HB, Kolter R (2000) Biofilm formation as microbial development. Annu Rev Microbiol 54:49 [abstract]
  • Yang Z, Ma X, Tong L, Kaplan HB, Shimkets LJ, Shi W (2000) Myxococcus xanthus dif genes are required for biogenesis of cell surface fibrils essential for social gliding motility. J Bacteriol 182:5793 [abstract]
  • Guo D, Wu Y, Kaplan HB (2000) Identification and characterization of genes required for early Myxococcus xanthus developmental gene expression. J Bacteriol 182:4564 [abstract]
  • Yang Z, Geng Y, Xu D, Kaplan HB, Shi W (1998) A new set of chemotaxis homologues is essential for Myxococcus xanthus social motility. Mol Microbiol 30:1123 [abstract]
  • Xu D, Yang C, Kaplan HB (1998) Myxococcus xanthus sasN encodes a regulator that prevents developmental gene expression during growth. J Bacteriol 180:6215 [abstract]

[Search PubMed for more papers by Heidi Kaplan]