Rice University
BioSciences at Rice

Peter Lwigale

Associate Professor of BioSciences

I am interested in events that regulate the differentiation of the multipotent neural crest cells during corneal development and neural crest-derived stromal keratocytes during cornea regeneration. The cornea is a highly specialized transparent tissue located at the anterior-most surface of the eye. An embryonic cell population known as neural crest cells gives rise to majority of the cells in the cornea, including: stromal keratocytes, corneal endothelium, and sensory nerves. Lwigale_research_web.jpg Development and regeneration of the cornea are both multi-step processes that involve coordinated migration and differentiation of neural crest cells and keratocytes, respectively, as well as the intricate patterning of sensory nerves. Using chick as a model organism and a combination of molecular, microsurgical, and tissue culture approaches, we have shown that: 1) only a subpopulation of neural crest cells can properly contribute to the cornea, 2) corneal keratocytes retain the stem cell-like properties of their neural crest progenitors when challenged in an embryonic environment, and 3) the lens-derived axon guidance molecule, Semaphorin3A, regulates sensory innervation of the cornea, neural crest cell migration, and vascular patterning in the anterior eye. Currently, our research is aimed at further elucidating the role of guidance molecules during cornea development. Since cornea regeneration recapitulates development, we will extrapolate our studies to cornea wound healing. In addition to the chick, these studies involve the mouse as a genetic model organism to further our understanding of the genes that are involved in these processes. We are also studying the stem cell potential of keratocytes and their characteristics in the embryonic environment. Ultimately, the goal of our research is to provide an insight into how guidance molecules are disrupted in congenital eye disorders and cornea wound healing, which may lead to discoveries of remedies or cures to these ocular problems.

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Ojeda, A.*, Munjaal, R., and Lwigale, P. CXCL14 knockdown disrupts neurovascular patterning during ocular development.  Developmental Biology, 423 2017: 77-91

Kwiatkowski, S.*, Ojeda, A.*, and Lwigale, P PlexinD1 is required for proper patterning of the periocular vascular network and for the establishment of corneal avascularity during avian ocular development.  Developmental Biology, 411 2016: 128-139

Lwigale, PY.  (2015) Corneal Development: Different Cells from a Common Progenitor. In "Molecular Biology of Eye Disease" Volume 134 of Progress in Molecular Biology and Translational Science.  Hejtmancik, JF and Nickerson, JM eds.  134:43-59

Agrawal SJ and Lwigale PY.  Quail-chick chimeras and eye development. Methods Mol Biol. (2015) 1189:255-263 

McKenna, C., Ojeda, A., Spurlin, J., Kwiatkowski, S., and Lwigale, P. (2014). Sema3A maintains corneal avascularity during development by inhibiting Vegf induced angioblast migration. Dev Biol. 391, 241-250. Featured on cover of journal issue

Spurlin, J. and Lwigale, P. A Technique to Increase Accessibility to Late-stage Chick Embryos for In Ovo Manipulations.  Dev Dyn. , 242 (2) 2013: 148-154. Recommended by Faculty of 1000

Ojeda A., Munjaal, R. and Lwigale, P. Expression of CXCL12 and CXCL14 during eye development in chick and mouse.  Gene Expression Patterns, 13, 2013: 303-310

Kwiatkowski, S., Munjaal, R., Lee, T., and Lwigale, P. Expression of pro- and anti-angiogenic factors during the formation of the periocular vasculature and development of the avian cornea.  Dev Dyn. , 242 (6) 2013: 738-751

Chao, J., Bronner, M., and Lwigale P. Human Fetal Keratocytes Have Multipotent Characteristics in the Developing Avian Embryo.  Stem Cells Dev. , 22 (15) 2013: 2186-95

Spurlin, J. and Lwigale, P. Wounded Embryonic Corneas Exhibit Nonfibrotic Regeneration and Complete Innervation.  Invest. Ophthalmol. Vis. Sci. , 54, 2013: 6334-6344

Griswold, S. and Lwigale, P. Analysis of neural crest migration and differentiation by cross-species transplantation.  J. Vis. Exp. , 7 (60) 2012: 3622

McKenna, C., Munjaal, R., and Lwigale, P. Distinct roles for Neuropilin1 and Neuropilin2 during mouse corneal innervation.  PLoS ONE, 7 (5) 2012: e37175

Schwend, T., Lwigale, P., and Conrad, G. Nerve repulsion by the lens and cornea during cornea innervation is dependent on Robo-Slit signaling and diminishes with neuron age.  Dev. Biol. , 363 2012: 115-127

McKenna, C. and Lwigale, P. Innervation of the mouse cornea during development.  Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci., 52 2011: 30-35

Lwigale, P.Y. and Bronner-Fraser, M. Semaphorin3A/neuropilin-1 signaling acts as a molecular switch regulating neural crest migration during cornea development.  Dev Biol, 336 2009: 257-265

Lee, V.M. and Lwigale, P.Y. Neural Crest, Sensory Neuron and Muscle Cultures.  Methods Cell Biology, 87 2008: 115-133

Lwigale, P.Y. and Schneider, R.A. Other Chimeras: Quail-Duck and Mouse-Chick.  Methods Cell Biology, 87 2008: 59-74

Shiau, C.E., Lwigale, P.Y., Raman, M.D., Wilson, S.A., and Bronner-Fraser, M. Robo2-Slit1 dependent cell-cell interactions mediate assembly of the trigeminal ganglion.  Nature Neuroscience, 11 2008: 269-276

Lwigale Lab Web Page

  • B.S. Biology (1994) University of Northern Iowa
  • M.S. Cell & Developmental Biology (1997) University of Northern Iowa
  • Ph.D. Cell & Developmental Biology (2001) Kansas State University
  • Postdoctoral Fellow (2002 -2007) California Institute of Technology
  • Senior Research Fellow (2007-2008) California Institute of Technology
  • Institute of Biosciences and Bioengineering
Research Areas
  • Molecular regulation of cornea development and regeneration. • Neural crest cell migration and differentiation • Trigeminal Sensory innervation • Ocular vasculogenesis and cornea avascularity • Cornea wound healing/regeneration
Contact Information
Email: lwigale@rice.edu
Phone: 713-348-6785
Office: Biology Labs, 339