Dr. John Vessey

Dr. John Vessey
Assistant Professor
Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology
Phone number: 
56997 / 58584
SSC 3455
SSC 3403-04


Although my research could be described as cellular, molecular or developmental, at heart, I’m a neuroscientist spanning all of those categories. My interest in the neurosciences began during my undergraduate degree at Dalhousie University. I was struck by the complexity of the neuron and curious about how such a complicated cell could function with such high precision. This interest led me to pursue an MSc, also at Dalhousie, under the supervision of Dr. Steven Barnes. Here, I studied photoreceptors, the sensory neurons of the retina. Although a very rewarding period of my early scientific career, I was always curious about how neurons develop their complex morphology.

In an effort to pique my curiosity, I moved to Europe and undertook my doctoral studies under the guidance of Drs. Michael Kiebler and Paolo Macchi, first at the Max Planck Institute of Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany and then at the Medical University of Vienna, in Vienna, Austria.

During this time, while studying the development of hippocampal neurons, I was introduced to the concept of asymmetric RNA localization and localized translational control. In hippocampal neurons, this process serves to deliver specific mRNAs to distal dendrites where they wait for the proper signal to undergo translation where the resulting proteins subsequently contribute to synaptic plasticity. While learning about the genes and proteins involved in this process, I discovered that in organisms such as fruit flies and frogs, asymmetric RNA localization also plays a role in asymmetric cell divisions in the stem cells of the developing nervous system. However, no such studies had looked at this process in mammals.

I moved back to Canada, to the lab of Drs. Freda Miller and David Kaplan at The Hospital for Sick Children, to investigate whether asymmetric RNA localization in neural stem cells contributes to both cellular differentiation and cortical development. With the new found understanding that this process is indeed conserved across species, I have started my own laboratory here in Guelph. My students and I are investigating various proteins that we think are important for RNA regulation during brain development.

I’m always interested in chatting with students interested in pursuing graduate and/or undergraduate research opportunities in my lab.


  • B.Sc. – Neuroscience, Dalhousie University
  • M.Sc. – Physiology and Biophysics, Dalhousie University
  • Ph.D. - Eberhard Karls University of Tübingen

Selected Publications

  • Amadei G, Zander MA, Yang G, Dumelie JG, Vessey JP, Lipshitz HD, Smibert CA, Kaplan DR, Miller FD. 2015. A Smaug2-Based Translational Repression Complex Determines the Balance between Precursor Maintenance versus Differentiation during Mammalian Neurogenesis. J Neurosci. 2015 Nov 25;35(47):15666-81.
  • Gallagher D, Norman AA, Woodard CL, Yang G, Gauthier-Fisher A, Fujitani M, Vessey JP, Cancino GI, Sachewsky N, Woltjen K, Fatt MP, Morshead CM, Kaplan DR, Miller FD. 2013. Transient maternal IL-6 mediates long-lasting changes in neural stem cell pools by deregulating an endogenous self-renewal pathway. Cell Stem Cell. 2013 Nov 7;13 (5) 564-76.
  • Tsui D, Vessey JP, Tomita H, Kaplan DR, Miller FD. 2012. FoxP2 regulates neurogenesis during embryonic cortical development. Journal of Neuroscience, 33 (1) 244-58.
  • Vessey JP, Amadei G, Burns SE, Kiebler MA, Kaplan DR, Miller FD. 2012. An asymmetrically-localized Staufen2-dependent RNA complex regulates maintenance of mammalian neural stem cells. Cell Stem Cell, 11 (4) 517-28.
  • Raj B, O'Hanlon D, Vessey JP, Pan Q, Ray D, Buckley NJ, Miller FD, Blencowe BJ. 2011. Cross-regulation between an alternative splicing activator and a transcription repressor controls neurogenesis. Molecular Cell, 43 (5) 843-50.
  • Vessey JP, Schoderboeck L, Gingl E, Luzi E, Riefler J, Di Leva F, Karra D, Thomas S, Kiebler MA, Macchi P. 2010. Mammalian Pumilio 2 regulates dendrite morphogenesis and synaptic function. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 107 (7) 3222-7.
  • Vessey JP, Macchi P, Stein JM, Mikl M, Hawker KH, Volgelsang P, Wieczorek K, Vendra G, Riefler J, Tübing F, Aparicio SAJ, Abel T, Kiebler MA.  2008.  A loss of function allele for murine Staufen 1 leads to impairment of dendritic Staufen1-RNP delivery and dendritic spine morphogenesis.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, USA, 105 (42) 16374-9.
  • Xie Y, Vessey JP, Konecna A, Dahm R, Macchi P, Kiebler MA.  2007.  The dendritic spine-associated GTPase Septin 7 is a regulator of dendritic branching and dendritic spine morphology.  Current Biology, 17 (20) 1746-51.
  • Vessey JP, Vaccani A, Xie Y, Dahm R, Karra D, Kiebler MA, Macchi P.  2006. Dendritic localization of the translational repressor Pumilio 2 and its contribution to dendritic stress granules. Journal of Neuroscience, 26 (24), 6496-508.