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

  • NEWS
  • Microenvironment-induced downregulation of miR-193b drives ovarian cancer metastasis

    Apr 28th, 2015

    Anirban K Mitra, Assistant Professor of Medical and Molecular Genetics has recently published his research in Oncogene. His study links paracrine signals from the microenvironment to the regulation of a key miRNA - miR-193b - in ovarian cancer cells, which promotes metastatic colonization.

    New link between motor proteins and breast cancer

    Apr 21th, 2015

    Collaborative work between Claire Walczak (Medical Sciences) and Ritu Aneja (Georgia Tech) reveals that overexpression of the mitotic kinesin, HSET, promotes tumor progression.

    American Cancer Society awards Research Scholar Grant to Dr. Heather Hundley

    Apr 21th, 2015

    Heather A. Hundley, Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, has been awarded a $775,000 grant from the American Cancer Society to support her project “Mechanisms Regulating RNA Editing at Specific Sites in the Transcriptome.”


    Comparison of MAPK specificity across the ETS transcription factor family identifies a high-affinity ERK interaction required for ERG function in prostate cells

    Selvaraj N, Kedage V, Hollenhorst PC

    ERK signaling regulates the opposing roles of JUN family transcription factors at ETS/AP-1 sites and in cell migration

    Selvaraj N, Budka JA, Ferris MW, Plotnik JP, Hollenhorst PC

    Regulatory mechanisms that control mitotic kinesins

    Yount AL, Zong H, Walczak CE

  • Peter Hollenhorst, PhD

    Aug. 31, 4pm JH 009

    Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Medical Sciences Program,
    Indiana University Bloomington, IN

    Lindsey D. Mayo, PhD

    Sept. 14, 4pm JH 009

    Associate Professor of Pediatrics
    Associate Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Wells Center for Pediatric Research
    Indianapolis, IN

    Charles N. Landen Jr, MD

    Sept. 21, 4pm JH 009

    Associate Professor
    Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology
    University of Virginia Cancer Center

    Qianben Wang, PhD

    Sept. 28, 4pm JH 009

    Associate Professor
    Department of Molecular Virology, Immunology and Medical Genetics and the Comprehensive Cancer Center
    College of Medicine the Ohio State University

  • CME conference

    Ethical Decisions for End of Life Care

    Wednesday, Jul 8th

    Shawn Gerber, M.Div.
    BCC Director, Spiritual Care & Chaplaincy IU Health Bloomington
    Bloomington, IN

    Pediatric Trauma

    Friday, Jul 10th

    Yueh Chang Ho, MD
    Assistant Prof. of Radiology
    Indianapolis, IN

    Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

    Wednesday, Jul 15th

    Otto Wickstrom, MD
    IU Health Southern Indiana Physicians
    Orthopedics & Sports Medicine
    Bloomington, IN

    Personalized Medicine: Challenges to Patients & their Physicians

    Friday, Jul 24th

    Kenneth Cornetta, MD
    IU Dept. of Medical & Molecular Genetics

    The Increasing Complexity of Venous Thromboembolic Disease

    Friday, Jul 31st

    Kenneth Cornetta, MD
    David Hedrick, MD

    Indiana Hemophilia & Thrombosis Center
    Indianapolis, IN

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