Download Curriculum Vitae

Dr. Johnson obtained her B.S. in Chemistry (1983) and her Ph. D. in Biochemistry (1988) at the University of Washington in Seattle. Her Ph. D. research was with Dr. Stephan Hauschka on muscle development. Postdoctoral research with Dr. David Anderson at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena led to the discovery of Ascl1 (previously Mash1), an essential transcription factor in neural development. She joined the faculty at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in December 1992 where she is currently a Professor in the Department of Neuroscience and holds the Shirley and William S. McIntyre Distinguished Chair in Neuroscience. 

The research in the Johnson lab is focused on vertebrate nervous system development during the transition from proliferating neural stem cells to differentiating neurons and glia. We use the bHLH family of transcription factors to probe the molecular mechanisms controlling the balance of neural progenitor cell maintenance and differentiation, and the generation of neuronal diversity. Alteration in function and expression of the neural bHLH factors result in disturbances of connectivity, imbalances in excitatory and inhibitory neuron formation and loss of control of neural cell number. Our focus on understanding how transcription factors regulate neuronal differentiation and diversity has direct implications for stem cell biology and cancer.


University of Washington (1983)
Graduate School
University of Washington (1988)

Research Interest

  • Cancer biology: lineage heterogenity and plasticity in neuroendocrine tumors (lung & prostate)
  • Developmental Neuroscience: neurogenesis and neuronal specification
  • Somatosensory circuit formation: dorsal spinal cord
  • Transcription factor function in neural stem and progenitor cell biology


Featured Publications LegendFeatured Publications

Honors & Awards

  • The Nichole Silversteen Research Chair from Malia’s Cord Foundation
  • Established Investigator of the American Heart Association

Professional Associations/Affiliations

  • Society for Developmental Biology
  • Society for Neuroscience