Stephen J. Tapscott

Appointments and Affiliations

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Human Biology Division
Member, Appointed: 1991
University of Washington
School of Medicine
Professor, Appointed: 1994
Professional Headshot of Stephen J. Tapscott

Mailing Address

Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
1100 Fairview Avenue N.
P.O. Box 19024
Seattle, Washington 98109-1024
United States


Phone: (206) 667-4499
Fax: (206) 667-6524


M.D., University of Pennsylvania, Medicine, 1982.
Ph.D., University of Pennsylvania, 1982.
B.A., Hampshire College, 1975.

Research Interests

Chromatin Structure and the Regulation of Gene Transcription:
Skeletal myogenesis is regulated by a family of related basic Helix-loop-Helix (bHLH) proteins: MyoD, Myf5, myogenin, and MRF4. MyoD and Myf5 are necessary to specify the skeletal muscle lineage, whereas myogenin is necessary for terminal differentiation. The expression of MyoD is sufficient to convert a fibroblast to a skeletal muscle cell. We have been using this as a model to study how a single initiating event, in this case the expression of the MyoD transcription factor, can orchestrate a highly complex and predictable response. We have shown that MyoD can be recruited to specific loci through interaction with resident homeodomain proteins and inititiate chromatin remodeling at these loci prior to stable DNA binding. Through mechanisms such as this, MyoD directly regulates genes expressed throughout the myogenic program and achieves promoter-specific regulation of its own binding and activity through a feed forward mechanism. These studies are beginning to show how master regulatory factors drive programs of cell differentiation.

Neurogenic bHLH proteins:
Similar to myogenesis, neurogenesis is regulated by a family of bHLH proteins related to NeuroD. We have been able to demonstrate that non-neuronal cells can be converted into neurons by the forced expression of neuroD family members. Different family members have varying abilities to activate neural promoters and to induce neurogenesis. Therefore these genes are good candidates for establishing and maintaining specific neuronal identities in subpopulations of neurons. We are now studying the molecular characteristics that confer specific activities on family members. We have also disrupted one of the neuroD family members, neuroD2, in mice and have demonstrated its role in the differentiation and survival of distinct neuronal populations.

Microsatellite and Macrosatellite Diseases:
We are studying the transcription and epigenteic modifications at triplet repeat disease loci, particularly DM1 and FMR1, as well as the D4Z4 macrosatellite repeat at the FSHD locus. We have identified bidirectional transcription and the generation of small RNAs at both the micro- and macrosatellite repeat regions, indicating that these repetitive regions might induce local heterochromatin structures.

Therapeutic Approaches to Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy:
Duchenne muscular dystrophy is caused by a mutation in the dystrophin gene on the X-chromosome, resulting in a severe muscle disease. Studies in mice suggest that dystrophin can be delivered to skeletal muscle either by viral vectors, such as adeno-associated virus (AAV), or by delivery of muscle stem cells. We are interested in determining whether bone marrow derived stem cells or skeletal muscle derived stem cells can be developed as a possible source of skeletal muscle for the treatment of Duchenne's muscular dystrophy. In addition, we are collaborating with Jeff Chamberlain at the University of Washington to test pre-clinical models of AAV delivery of dystrophin to skeletal muscle.

DNA Methylation and DNA Palindromes in Human Cancers:
In collaboration with Meng-Chao Yao at the FHCRC, we have shown that the formation of a large DNA palindrome is the initial and rate limiting step in gene amplification in a model system of DHFR amplification in CHO cells. We have also shown that DNA palindrome formation is associated with regions of gene amplification inhuman cancers. We are now determing the mechanisms of initial palindrome formation, their role in cancer cell biology, and their utility for cancer detection and therapy. In addition, we have developed a genome-wide assay for determining differential DNA methylation. Using this assay, we have detected methylated loci associated with medulloblastoma and rhabdomyosarcoma pediatric malignancies.

Additional Experience

Board Certified neurologist with special expertise in neurogenetics and neuromuscular disease


American Academy of Neurology
American Association for the Advancement of Science
American Neurological Association


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