Black Family Stem Cell Institute

Muscle Stem Cells

Skeletal muscle has remarkable capacity for regeneration after injury. This capability derives from resident muscle stem cells, known as satellite cells. Satellite cells reside in a specialized microenvironment, or niche, which supports their behavior.

During normal homeostatic maintenance of adult muscle, satellite cells are quiescent and play little role in muscle maintenance. Following injury, however, they proliferate as transit-amplifying myoblasts, and differentiate to repair damaged fibers or generate new ones. Satellite cells also undergo self-renewal to replenish the stem cell pool, enabling a response to potential future injuries.

Skeletal muscle is an ideal system for addressing questions about how stem cells are maintained within their niche over long periods of time, how complex tissues regenerate in response to insult, and how stem cells become exhausted during the progression of diseases such as muscular dystrophy. Investigators at the Black Family Stem Cell Institute address these questions with a combination of animal models, in vitro systems, and human samples, with the goals of understanding fundamental concepts in stem cell biology and furthering regenerative medicine.

Investigators with a major focus in muscle stem cell research include:

Woojin M. Han

Woojin M. Han, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Orthopaedics at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Dr. Han completed his PhD in bioengineering at the University of Pennsylvania, and his postdoctoral training at the Georgia Institute of Technology. The Han Laboratory develops cell-instructive biomaterials to systematically study how stem cells interact with their surrounding niche in regulating tissue pathophysiology, with a primary focus on skeletal muscle stem (satellite) cells and fibro/adipogenic progenitors. His team also focuses on establishing regenerative therapies for treating injuries and diseases of the musculoskeletal system by harnessing cell-matrix interactions. Dr. Han has previously engineered a synthetic cell-instructive matrix for facilitating the transplantation and engraftment of muscle stem cells in the context of muscle injury and Duchenne muscular dystrophy. By independently tuning multiple material properties through parametric design, Dr. Han and his team has successfully developed a fully synthetic cell delivery platform conducive to muscle stem cell survival, proliferation, migration, and differentiation for targeting limb muscle trauma and dystrophic diaphragms. His research program will continue to integrate multidisciplinary bioengineering concepts to pioneer new technologies for dissecting stem cell-niche interactions and advancing regenerative therapies for musculoskeletal injuries and disorders.

Ongoing research interests include:

  • Engineering niche-mimetic designer platforms to direct muscle stem cell polarity, division, and fate determination for ex vivo muscle stem cell maintenance, expansion, and manufacturing.
  • Understanding the roles of niche-derived biophysical and biochemical cues in regulating muscle stem cell polarity, fate determination, and mechanotransduction in development, aging, and diseases.
  • Developing cell-instructive biomaterials and therapies to treat skeletal muscle injuries and disorders.

Robert A Krauss, PhD

Robert Krauss, PhD, is a Professor of Cell, Developmental, and Regenerative Biology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and Co-director of the Development, Regeneration, and Stem Cells training area for graduate students. His lab is interested in how niche-derived signals regulate stem cell function, using the skeletal muscle lineage as a model system. His lab showed that cadherins are niche factors that promote quiescence of skeletal muscle stem cells under homeostatic conditions, and regulate activation of these cells in response to injury, thereby facilitating tissue regeneration. His lab uses a variety of approaches, including mouse genetics and molecular cell biology, to address questions about how the muscle stem cell niche is constructed, maintained, and functions. The Krauss Laboratory also studies the Nodal and Hedgehog signaling pathways and how deficiency in these pathways results in the common birth defect, holoprosencephaly.

Ongoing research interests include:

  • Exploring how cadherins regulate cytoskeletal architecture in muscle stem cells to provide structural integrity, mechanosensation, and cell polarity
  • Identifying and analyzing the components of the adherens junction formed between muscle stem cells and their major niche cell, the myofiber
  • Modeling the complex etiology of holoprosencephaly in mice
  • Assessing functional consequences of human mutations involved in holoprosencephaly



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