Brenda Rongish, PhD

Associate Professor


Research Focus

Research in the lab is interdisciplinary and focuses on the dynamic nature of the extracellular matrix, the milieu that surrounds the cells, and contributes to their shape, locomotion, gene expression, and every aspect of their behavior. Cells move, and ECM can be passively displaced because of individual cell motion or the motion of entire sheets of cells. Like cells, ECM can be “fate-mapped” and shown to be moved and organized to best suit the developing embryo. To study these dynamic molecules we use automated microscopes and fluorescent probes to perform time-lapse imaging of avian developmental events and the role of the ECM in these events. QuickTime movies provide a way to observe developmental processes, while collaborations with biomedical engineers and physicists allow precise computational analyses of both cell and ECM behaviors (trajectories, velocities, directed vs. random motion of cells).

In order to undergo complex folding and twisting events that are necessary for proper development, the embryo must both respond to forces generated by cell movements and resist tearing itself apart. Since the ECM cannot move by itself, it can be used as an indicator of these forces. The ECM can also act in a structural manner to transduce these forces. We have shown that the ECM can align in response to forces acting upon tissues, and that this organization is critical to proper morphogenesis. Experiments in the lab focus on disrupting this organization and studying the resulting phenotypes, which affect bilateral heart tube fusion, gastrulation, segmentation, neurulation, and other critical developmental events. ECM molecules of interest include the fibrillins, fibronectin, fibulins, integrins, MMPs and others.

Questions of immediate interest include: Do the multiple components of the ECM meshwork retain unique functions pertaining to their organization, or does the ECM function as a composite? What is the source of the forces that cause ECM to be displaced relatively vast distances in the embryo; i.e. to be made in one place and used in another? How does MMP activity relate to cell motility and ECM displacements? Can the material properties of the embryo be measured, and if so, will they differ in embryos in which the ECM has been perturbed? Can we model, and thus predict, abnormal phenotypes resulting from disorganized ECM in certain times and places? How do cell and ECM "motion" correlate in vivo? What is the role of the ECM in developmental signaling pathways?

Selected Publications

  1. Czirok, A., Rongish, B.J., and Little, C.D. Extracellular matrix dynamics during vertebrate axis formation. Developmental Biology, 268:111-122, 2004
  2. Zamir, E.A., Czirok, A., Rongish, B.J., and Little, C.D. A digital image-based method for computational tissue fate mapping during early avian morphogenesis. Annals of Biomedical Engineering 33:854-865, 2005.
  3. Kozel, B.A., Rongish, B.J., Czirok, A., Zach, J., Little, C.D., Davis, E.C., Knutsen, R.H., Wagenseil, J.E., Levy, M.A., and Mecham, R.P. Elastic fiber formation: a dynamic view of extracellular matrix assembly using timer reporters. Journal of Cellular Physiology 207:87-96, 2006.
  4. Czirok, A., Zach, J., Kozel, B.A., Mecham, R.P., Davis, E.C., and Rongish, B.J. Elastic fiber macro-assembly is a hierarchical, cell motion-mediated process. Journal of Cell Physiology 207:97-106, 2006.
  5. Sivakumar, P., Czirok, A., Rongish, B.J., Divakara, V.P., Wang, Y. and Dallas, S.L. New insights into extracellular matrix assembly and reorganization from dynamic imaging of extracellular matrix proteins in living osteoblasts. Journal of Cell Science 119:1350-1360, 2006.
  6. Cui, C., Lansford, R., Filla, M.B., Little, C.D., Cheuvront, T.J. and Rongish, B.J. Electroporation and EGFP labeling of gastrulating quail embryos. Developmental Dynamics 235:2802-2810, 2006.
  7. Zamir, E.A., Czirok, A., Cui, C., Little, C.D., and Rongish, B.J. Mesodermal cell displacements during avian gastrulation are due to both individual cell-autonomous and convective tissue movements. Proc Natl Acad Sci U SA 103(52):19806-19811, 2006. Epub 2006 Dec 18. (Evaluated by the Faculty of 1000, Biology:
  8. Czirok, A., Zamir, E., Filla, M.B., Little, C.D., and Rongish, B.J. Extracellular matrix macro-assembly dynamics in vertebrate embryos. Current Topics in Developmental Biology Volume 73, p238-258 (G. Schatten, ed.), Elsevier Inc., 2006.
  9. Cui, C., Rongish, B., Little, C., and Lansford, R. (2007) Electroporation of DNA vectors pre-gastrulation avian embryos. CSHL Protocols.
  10. Zamir, E., Rongish, B. and Little, C. The ECM Moves during Primitive Streak Formation - Computation of ECM Versus Cellular Motion. PLoS Biol October 14; 6(10): e247, 2008 (Evaluated by the Faculty of 1000, Biology:
  11. Cui, C., Little, CD., and B.J. Rongish. Rotation of organizer tissue contributes to left-right asymmetry. Anatomical Record 292(4):557-61, 2009
  12. Cui, C., Cheuvront, T.J., Lansford, R.D., Moreno-Rodriguez, R.A., Schultheiss, T.M., and Rongish, B.J. Dynamic positional fate map of the primary heart-forming region. Dev Biol. 332(2):212-22, 2009.


Rongish, B PI
Computational Imaging of the ECM During Avian Heart Morphogenesis

Little, C Co-Investigator; Rongish, B Co-Investigator; Czirok, A Co-Investigator
Deciphering the Biomechanical Morphogenetic Code
Mathers Charitable Foundation

Contact information

The University of Kansas Medical Center
Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology
1008 WHW
3901 Rainbow Blvd.
Kansas City, KS 66160

(913) 588-1878 (office tele)
(913) 588-1857 (lab tele)
(913) 588-2710 (fax)

Lab Members

Petersen Cheuvront Filla
Alan Petersen
Systems Analyst

B.S. Secondary Education, Mathematics and Computer Science – Wayne State College 15+ years of experience in Information Technology including: application design, user interface design, programming, project planning.

Personal and professional interests:
Open Source software and philosophy, software design, writing, natural history, game structure and design, steam engines, astronomy, game theory, computer science, public education, firearms and military technology of the mid and late 19th century, music (particularly traditional), and animation
Tracey Cheuvront
Research Associate

B.S. Biochemistry (with emphasis in exercise physiology)--Kansas State University

Academic Interests:
Biology--from atoms to ecosystems and anatomy to behavior. Exercise science --from molecular physiology and substrate metabolism to system plasticity and training program design.

Personal Interests:
Cycling for transportation, recreation, and fitnes

Weight training for fun and functional capacity

Sustainable development for the future; attitudes, practices, technologies, etc
Michael Filla
Senior Research Associate

B.S. Biology – University of Missouri, Kansas City and 15+ years lab experience

Personal Interests:
Canoeing Missouri streams in the Fall and Winter months; Home brewing and Brown and Pale Ales-Hops, Hops and more Hops
A Aleksandrova    

Anastasiia Aleksandrova
PhD student

Last modified: Apr 15, 2014

Brenda Rongish


Brenda Rongish, PhD
Associate Professor