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Paul Berg Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and Chair of the Molecular, Cellular and Integrative Biosciences Graduate Program
Melissa Rolls

About Me

Yale University, New Haven, CT B.S. 1995 Biology
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA Ph.D. 2001 Biological and Biomedical Sciences
University of Oregon, Eugene, OR  Postdoctoral 2007 Neuroscience and Molecular Biology




Program or Departmental Affiliations

The BMMB Graduate Program Molecular, Cellular, and Integrative Biosciences Neuroscience



Center for Cellular Dynamics
Penn State Medical Scientist Training Program
Associate Director
Molecular, Cellular, and Integrative Biosciences
Program Chair


Research Summary

We use model organisms to understand neuronal polarity and neuronal injury responses. We are interested in how machinery found in all cells is adapted in neurons to generate extremely long cells that have two different types of compartments: axons and dendrites. We are particularly interested in the microtubule cytoskeleton as it forms the tracks that are used for long-range directional transport in neurons. While microtubules must maintain stable polarized tracks for a lifetime, individual microtubules are dynamic and constantly rebuild themselves. This balance between stability and dynamics is essential for neurons to be healthy for a lifetime, and adaptable enough to respond to injury and stress. We are studying regulators of microtubule stability and dynamics and how they allow neurons to remain healthy in normal conditions, and also facilitate neuroprotection and regeneration after injury.


Honors and Awards

2009 - 2013

Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences


Junior Career Award, American Society for Cell Biology, Women in Cell Biology Committee


Tershak Outstanding Faculty Teaching Award, Penn State 

2016 - 2018

Shaffer Career Development Professorship in Science, Penn State


Dean’s Climate and Diversity Award, Eberly College of Science, Penn State

2019 -

Paul Berg Professorship in Biochemistry


Selected Publications

  • Weiner, A. T., Seebold, D. Y., Torres-Gutierrez, P., Folker, C., Swope, R. D., Kothe, G. O., Stoltz, J. G., Zalenski, Kozlowski, K., Barbera, D. J., Patel, M. A., Thyagarajan, P., Shorey, M., Nye, D. M., Keegan, M., Behari, K., Song, S., Axelrod, J. D., Rolls, M. M. (2020) Endosomal Wnt signaling proteins control microtubule nucleation in dendrites. PLOS Biology 18: e3000647.
  • Nye, D. M. R., Albertson, R. M., Weiner, A. T., Hertzler, J. I., Shorey, M., Goberdhan, D. C. I, Wilson, C., Janes, K. A., Rolls, M. M. (2020) The receptor tyrosine kinase Ror is required for dendrite regeneration in Drosophila neurons. PLOS Biology 18: e3000657.
  • Feng, C., Thyagarajan, P., Shorey, M., Seebold, D. Y., Weiner, A. T., Albertson, R. M., Rao, K. S., Sagasti, A., Goetschius, D. J., Rolls, M. M. (2019) Patronin-mediated minus end growth is required for dendritic microtubule polarity. Journal of Cell Biology 218: 2309-2328. 
  • Weiner, A. T., Seebold, D. Y., Michael, N. L., Guignet, M. L., Feng, C., Follick, B., Yusko, B. A., Wasilko, N. P., Torres-Gutierrez, P., Rolls, M. M. (2018) Identification of proteins required for precise positioning of Apc2 in dendrites. G3 8:1841-533. 
  • Rao, K. S., Rolls, M. M. (2017) Two Drosophila model neurons can regenerate axons from the stump or a converted dendrite, with feedback between the two sites. Neural Development 12:15.
  • Chen, L., Nye, D. M., Stone, M. C., Weiner, A. T., Gheres, K. W., Xiong, X., Collins, C. A., Rolls, M. M. (2016) Mitochondria and caspases tune Nmnat-mediated stabilization to promote axon regeneration. PLOS Genetics 12:e1006503.
  • Jegla, T., Nguyen M.M., Feng, C., Goetschius, D.J., Luna, E., van Rossum, D.B., Kamel, B., Pisupati, A., Milner, E.S., Rolls, M.M. (2016) Bilaterian giant ankyrins have a common evolutionary origin and play a conserved role in the formation of a diffusion barrier at the axon initial segment. PLOS Genetics, 12:e1006457.
  • Rao, K., Stone, M. C. Weiner, A. T., Gheres, K. W., Zhou, C., Deitcher, D. L., Levitan, E. S., Rolls, M. M. (2016) Spastin, atlastin, and ER relocalization are involved in axon but not dendrite regeneration. Molecular Biology of the Cell 27: 3245-56. 
  • Tao, J., Feng, C. Rolls, M. M. (2016) The microtubule-severing protein fidgetin acts after dendrite injury to promote their degeneration. Journal of Cell Science 129: 3274-81. 
  • Weiner, A. T., Lanz, M. C., Goetschius, D. J., Hancock, W. O., Rolls, M. M. (2016) Kinesin-2 and Apc function at dendrite branch points to resolve microtubule collisions. Cytoskeleton 73: 35-44.
  • Nguyen, M. M., McCracken, C. J., Milner, E. S., Goetschius, D. J., Weiner, A. T., Long, M. K., Michael, N. L., Munro, S., Rolls, M. M. (2014) γ-tubulin controls neuronal microtubule polarity independently of Golgi outposts. Molecular Biology of the Cell 25: 2039-2050. 
  • Chen, Y., Rolls, M. M., Hancock, W. O. (2014) An EB1-kinesin complex is sufficient to steer microtubule growth in vitro. Current Biology 24: 316-321. 
  • Stone, M. C., Albertson, R. M., Chen, L., Rolls, M. M. (2014) Dendrite injury triggers DLK-independent regeneration. Cell Reports 6: 247-253.
  • Zhou, K., Rolls, M. M., Hanna-Rose, W. (2013) A postmitotic function and distinct localization mechanism for centralspindlin at a stable intercellular bridge. Developmental Biology 376: 13-22. 
  • Stone, M. C., Rao, K., Gheres, K. W., Kim, S., Tao, J., La Rochelle, C., Folker, C. T., Sherwood, N. T., Rolls, M. M. (2012) Normal spastin gene dosage is specifically required for axon regeneration. Cell Reports 2:1-11.
  • Hill, S. E., Parmar, M., Gheres, K. W., Guignet, M. A., Huang, Y., Jackson, F. R., Rolls, M. M. (2012) Development of dendrite polarity in Drosophila neurons. Neural Development 7:34 (1-13).
  • Stewart, A., Tsubouchi, A., Rolls, M. M., Tracey, W. D., Sherwood, N. T. (2012) Katanin p60-like1 promotes microtubule growth and terminal dendrite stability in the larval class IV sensory neurons of Drosophila. Journal of Neuroscience 32: 11631-11642. 
  • Chen, L., Stone, M. C., Tao, J., Rolls, M. M. (2012) Axon injury and stress trigger a microtubule-based neuroprotective pathway. Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, USA 109: 11842-11847.
  • Nguyen, M. M., Stone, M. C., Rolls, M. M. (2011) Microtubules are organized independently from the centrosome in Drosophila neurons. Neural Development 6: 38 (1-16). 
  • Tao, J., Rolls, M. M. (2011) Dendrites have a rapid program of injury-induced degeneration that is molecularly distinct from developmental pruning. Journal of Neuroscience 31: 5398-5405.
  • Mattie, F. J., Stackpole, M. M., Stone, M. C., Clippard, J. R., Rudnick, D. A., Qiu, Y., Tao, J., Allender, D. L., Parmar, M., Rolls, M. M. (2010) Directed microtubule growth, +TIPs and kinesin-2 are required for uniform microtubule polarity in dendrites. Current Biology 21: 2169-2177.
  • Stone, M. C., Nguyen, M. M., Tao, J., Allender, D. L., Rolls, M. M. (2010) Global upregulation of microtubule dynamics and polarity reversal during regeneration of an axon from a dendrite. Molecular Biology of the Cell  21: 767-777.
  • Minn, I., Rolls, M. M., Hanna-Rose, W., Malone, C. J. (2009) SUN-1 and ZYG-12, mediators of centrosome-nucleus attachment, are a functional SUN-KASH pair in Caenorhabditis elegans. Molecular Biology of the Cell 20: 4586-4595.
  • Zhou, K., Rolls, M. M., Hall, D. H., Malone, C. J., Hanna-Rose, W.  (2009) A ZYG-12-dynein interaction at the nuclear envelope defines cytoskeletal architecture in the C. elegans gonad. Journal of Cell Biology  186: 229-241.
  • Stone, M. C., Roegiers, F., Rolls, M. M. (2008) Microtubules have opposite orientation in axons and dendrites of Drosophila neurons. Molecular Biology of the Cell 19: 4122-4129.
  • Hertzler, J. I., Simonovitch, S. I., Albertson, R. M., Weiner, A. T., Nye, D. M. R., Rolls, M. M. (2020) Kinetochore proteins suppress neuronal microtubule dynamics and promote dendrite regeneration. Molecular Biology of the Cell in press.
  • Shorey, M., Stone, M. C., Mandel, J., Rolls, M. M. (2020) Neurons survive simultaneous injury to axons and dendrites and regrow both types of processes in vivo. Developmental Biology in press.
  • Rolls, M. M., Thyagarajan, P., Feng, C. (2020) Microtubule dynamics in healthy and injured neurons. Developmental Neurobiology in press.