John Foley Lab


Ph.D. University of Cincinnati, 1993


Associate Professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology




Office Phone: (812) 855-3189

Lab Phone: (812) 855-3206 





Research Interests

The Foley lab: Epithelia-Mesenchyme interactions that drive specialized skin function..Foley_lab_page2.jpg

The skin is made up of two major layers: the outer most is the epidermis and this functions as a barrier protecting the organism from a myriad of insults; the inner layer is the dermis which a tough connective tissue that supports, nourishes and controls the differentiation of the epidermis.  There have been tremendous advances identifying the signaling molecules and pathways that control epidermal differentiation and hair follicle cycling in skin that covers the body that is sometimes called trunk skin. However, mammals actually interface and manipulate their environment through small patches of specialized skin. These are largely hairless ,and include lips, palms, soles anal/genital regions and the nipple/areola.  In these regions the epidermis is specialized exhibiting increased layers, altered cornification patterns, a lack of hair follicles and unique keratins. These characteristics are thought to result from molecular signals produced by distinct regional fibroblast populations at these sites. Little is known about signaling produced from these regional fibroblasts. Moreover, the role of other cell types present in these stromal niches has been ignored.  In particular, sites of specialized skin contain abundant muscle in the dermis, providing the capacity to generate mechanical strain and respond to hormones that can substantially alter epidermis.  Some examples of specialized epidermis change very little throughout life, but the human and mouse nipple/areola expands under the influence of pregnancy and lactation hormones, as well as the strain of nursing. Finally injuries to sites of specialized skin are notoriously difficult to repair.

My lab is interested in exploring the basic molecular and cellular biology of the nipple. The goal is to use this information to develop strategies to ameliorate structural defects (inverted nipples) and soreness/chapping of the appendage during nursing.  In addition, mastectomies eliminate nipples in many breast cancer patients and satisfactory reconstruction options often are not available for this specialized skin.  We intend to use the information gained from a basic studies to develop a cell-based regeneration nipple strategy for mastectomy victims.

My work with skin has broadened to include specialized appendages in non-mammalian vertebrates.  In particular I have worked with my good friend Cheng-Ming Chuong’s lab on basic molecular and cell biology of the feather.  This work has now includes collaborations with the songbird group here at IU biology.  A key project underway is the molecular and cellular basis of the unusually long-tailed fowl developed in Japan.  We believe these studies will provide insights into why humans grow extraordinarily long hair on their heads.


Recent Publications

Koyama S.  Wu, H-J Easwaran T, Tholpady S and Foley J. (2013) The Nipple: A Simple Intersection of Mammary Gland and Integument, but Focal Point of Organ Function.  J Mammary Gland Biol Neoplasia 18: 121-31

Lin SJ, Foley J, Jiang TX, Yeh CY, Wu P, Foley A, Yen CM, Huang YC, Cheng HC, Chen CF, Reeder B, Jee SH, Widelitz RB, Chuong CM. (2013) Topology of Feather Melanocyte Progenitor Niche Allows Complex Pigment Patterns to Emerge. Science 340(6139):1442-5

Nickerson NK, Mill CP, Wu H-J,  Riese ,DJ II and  Foley J. (2013)  Autocrine-Derived EGFR Ligands Contribute to Recruitment of Tumor-Associated Macrophage and Growth of Basal Breast Cancer Cells In Vivo Oncology Research 20: 303-17

Ng CS, Wu P, Foley J, Foley A, Mc Donald M, Leal SM, Juan WT, Huang CJ, Lai YT,Lo WS, Chen CF, Zhang H Widelitz RB, Patel PI, Li WH Chuong CM. (2012) The frizzle feather is due to an α-keratin (KRT75) mutation that causes a defective rachis. Plos Genetics Jul;8(7):e1002748

Lorch G, Viatchenko-Karpinski S, Ho H-T, Dirksen WP, Toribio RE, Foley J, Gyorke S and Rosol TJ (2011) The calcium-sensing receptor is necessary for the rapid development of hypercalcemia in human squamous cell carcinoma. Neoplasia 13: 428-438

1001 E 3rd St, Jordan Hall 104 | Bloomington, IN 47405 | (812) 855-8118