Kumaran S. Ramamurthi, Ph.D.

Kumaran S. Ramamurthi, Ph.D.
Deputy Chief
Senior Investigator
Head, Cell Biology Section

Dr. Ramamurthi’s laboratory studies fundamental mechanisms that cells use to differentiate and divide in an effort to understand how these processes may go awry during disease. His lab focuses on how proteins localize to particular subcellular locations and how they subsequently assemble to form large structures during development and cell division. Recently, he discovered that the shape of cellular membranes, either convex or concave, may recruit certain membrane shape-sensing proteins to their correct destination, a novel mechanism for subcellular protein localization.

Areas of Expertise

1) microbiology, 2) protein trafficking, 3) cellular differentiation, 4) cell division,
5) cytoskeleton, 6) fluorescence microscopy

Contact Info

Kumaran S. Ramamurthi, Ph.D.
Center for Cancer Research
National Cancer Institute
Building 37, Room 5132
Bethesda, MD 20892
Ph: 240-760-7881

Our laboratory employs classical genetics and biochemistry combined with fluorescence microscopy and biophysical and computational techniques to study how proteins localize in a cell and subsequently assemble into larger structures. We focus on protein localization events during cell division and morphogenesis.

Bacterial spore coat assembly as a model for understanding how large cellular structures are built. Spores are specialized bacterial cells that can remain dormant for decades and are highly resistant to environmental insults. Spores are encased in a thick protein shell termed the “coat”. The basement layer of the coat contains two proteins that initiate coat assembly. SpoVM is a tiny protein that anchors the coat to the spore’s surface. We discovered that SpoVM localizes during spore formation by preferentially embedding in micron-scale convex (positively curved) membranes such as that found on the spore’s surface. SpoVM then recruits SpoIVA, a novel cytoskeletal protein, that we discovered hydrolyzes ATP to irreversibly polymerize to form a shell that encases the developing spore. We are currently studying how later steps in coat assembly proceed and how coat assembly is monitored.

Assembly of synthetic bacteria to display vaccines and deliver drugs. Recently, we have reconstituted the assembly of the basement layer of the spore coat, using purified SpoVM and SpoIVA, around bacteria-sized silica beads surrounded by a membrane to construct synthetic spore-like particles that we named “SSHELs”. We are currently investigating the utility of SSHEL particles in displaying vaccines and delivering drugs to specific tissues.

Regulation of cellular differentiation. Bacterial spore formation (called “sporulation”) is a relatively simple developmental pathway in which a progenitor cell asymmetrically divides, then irreversibly commits to creating two genetically identical daughter cells that exhibit different cell fates (one daughter becomes a spore, and the other daughter nurtures the developing spore and eventually lyses). Entry into sporulation is governed by several well-studied checkpoints, but later steps that regulate progression through sporulation are less well understood. We are currently identifying quality control pathways that govern progression through sporulation after the cell commits to completing this developmental program.

Bacterial cell division. Correct placement of the cell division septum is a fundamental feature of life. We are currently identifying and characterizing components that determine the asymmetric placement of the division septum in the rod-shaped model bacterium Bacillus subtilis when it initiates the differentiation pathway that culminates in the formation of a spore. We are also investigating how a spherical bacterium, the human pathogen Staphylococcus aureus, correctly identifies mid-cell and regulates cell division.

***Graduate students who are interested in a postdoctoral fellowship are encouraged to send their CV directly to Kumaran Ramamurthi (ramamurthiks@mail.nih.gov)***

NIH Scientific Focus Areas:
Cell Biology, Developmental Biology, Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry
  1. Peluso EA, Updegrove TB, Chen J, Shroff H, Ramamurthi KS
    Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 116: 21789-21799, 2019. [ Journal Article ]
  2. Eswara PJ, Brzozowski RS, Viola MG, Graham G, Spanoudis C, Trebino C, Jha J, Aubee JI, Thompson KM, Camberg JL, Ramamurthi KS
    eLife. e38856, 2018. [ Journal Article ]
  3. Kim EY, Tyndall ER, Huang KC, Tian F, Ramamurthi KS.
    Cell Systems. 5: 518-526 , 2017. [ Journal Article ]
  4. Tan IS, Weiss CA, Popham DL, Ramamurthi KS
    Developmental Cell. 34: 682-693, 2015. [ Journal Article ]
  5. Wu, I.L., Narayan, K., Castaing, J.P., Tian, F., Subramaniam, S., and Ramamurthi, K.S.
    Nature Commun.. 6: 6777, 2015. [ Journal Article ]

Kumaran Ramamurthi received his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he studied the secretion of bacterial virulence proteins. After a brief research fellowship at the University of Chicago, he studied subcellular protein localization as a Ruth L. Kirchstein National Research Service Award Postdoctoral Fellow at Harvard University.


He arrived at the NIH in 2009 as a Tenure Track Investigator and was promoted to Senior Investigator in 2016. He currently serves on the Editorial Boards of The Journal of Biological Chemistry and Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews, and is the Co-Director of the NIH-Johns Hopkins University Graduate Partnership Program. He received the National Cancer Institute Director’s Award in 2016.

Name Position
Sylvia Chareyre Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow (Visiting)
Sarah Clifford B.S. Postbaccalaureate Fellow (CRTA)
Thomas Delerue Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow (Visiting)
Domenico D’Atri Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow (Visiting)
Thomas Nipper B.S. Postbaccalaureate Fellow (CRTA)
Felix Ramos-Leon Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow (Visiting)
Christina Savage Ph.D. Postdoctoral Fellow (CRTA)
Taylor Updegrove Ph.D. Staff Scientist