Courey, Albert J.


Courey Albert


Dr. Courey, who is from Buffalo, New York, joined the UCLA faculty in 1990 and was promoted to full professor in 1999. He has served the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry as Graduate Advisor (2003-2005), Vice Chair for Education (2001-2005), and Chair (2008-2012). He also serves on the Advisory Committee of the Molecular Biology Interdepartmental Program and is one of the founders of the Gene Regulation Interdepartmental Program. Dr. Courey has instructed a course at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories in Protein Purification and Characterization every spring since 1996. His lab uses Drosophila melanogaster as a model organism to study transcriptional control mechanisms as well as the cell and developmental biology of SUMO, a ubiquitin-family protein. Dr. Courey has authored a textbook entitled Mechanisms in Transcriptional Regulation (Blackwell Publishing Company). He is an avid pianist and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Piano Performance from the Oberlin College Conservatory of Music.

Research Interests

Overview- The Molecular Basis of Development

During embryogenesis, a cluster of apparently undifferentiated cells is transformed into an ordered array of differentiated tissues. Using Drosophila as a model system, my research group combines biochemical and genetic approaches to study the molecular basis of this amazing transformation. Essentially all the regulatory circuits we study are conserved throughout the animal kingdom. Therefore, our studies have important implications for human health and development.

The following two major projects are currently underway in the lab.

Spatial and temporal regulation of transcription in development. We have been extensively examining mechanisms of activation and repression by the Dorsal morphogen, a transcription factor that determines the dorsal/ventral axis during early development. This factor is the Drosophila homolog of the vertebrate regulatory protein NF-kB. Like Dorsal, NF-kB is involved in both the determination of embryonic polarity and in the innate immune response. Furthermore, both Dorsal and NF-kB are regulated by homologous signal transduction cascades that control transcription factor activity by regulating nuclear import.

Role of Sumo-conjugation in development. Sumo is a recently discovered member of the ubiquitin family that is conserved throughout all eukaryotes. This polypeptide is a substrate for a protein conjugation system, in which Sumo becomes covalently attached to numerous target proteins modifying their behavior in various ways. We are attempting to learn about the roles of Sumo in cell biology and development. Our analysis has revealed possible roles for this process in regulated nuclear import, embryonic pattern formation, the immune response, and the stress response.


Drosophila and human development are homologous processes. They utilize closely related genes working in highly conserved regulatory networks. Unlike humans, Drosophila is subject to easy genetic manipulation. As a result, most of what we know about the molecular basis of animal development has come from studies of model systems such as Drosophila.


Honors & Awards

  • Basil O’Connor Starter Scholar Research Award
  • Hanson-Dow Teaching Award
  • Searle Scholars Award
  • American Cancer Society Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Damon Runyon-Walter Winchell Cancer Research Fund Postdoctoral Fellowship

Representative Publications