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Kathryn M. Ferguson, PhD

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Associate Professor of Pharmacology


Member, Yale Cancer Biology Institute



Associate Professor of Pharmacology

Member, Yale Cancer Biology Institute


Dr. Ferguson’s research focuses on extracellular control of receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs), aberrant activation of which can drive cancer and other diseases. Dr. Ferguson obtained her Ph.D. from Yale in 1996, and completed postdoctoral training at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. She transitioned to an independent faculty position in the Department of Physiology at UPenn in 2003, returning to Connecticut in 2015 to join the Yale Cancer Biology Institute and Department of Pharmacology.


Education & Training

Yale University, Chemistry (1996)
University of Oxford, Physics (1987)



Mechanisms of activation of RTKs that are dimeric in the unliganded state:

For most (if not all) RTKs, regulation involves more than simple ligand-induced dimerization. In some cases, RTKs form dimers in the absence of ligand so activation must proceed by some alternate mechanism. The insulin receptor (IR), for example, is a disulfide-bonded dimer that is regulated by ligand induced conformational changes. We are interested in the regulation of RTKs that form non-covalent inactive dimers, such at Tie2, that forms an unliganded dimer mediated by its membrane proximal FNIII domains, and the invertebrate epidermal growth factor receptors (EGFRs) that form dimers of varying stability and poorly characterized structure. How ligand induces activation in these cases is not well understood and may involve conformational rearrangement in a dimer or formation of higher order oligomers (or both). We are using cryo-electron microscopy to gain structural insights into the ligand induced changes for these dimeric RTKs, and test our structure derived mechanistic hypotheses with biochemical, cellular and in vivo assays.

Understanding how the membrane environment directs RTK structure and function:

As part of a new NIH-funded interdisciplinary team science program, we and several other laboratories in the Departments of Pharmacology and Cell Biology are working to understand how membrane composition directs membrane protein structure and function. We seek to define the components (lipid & protein) of functional complexes isolated from native membranes, to study the role of the local membrane environment in the function and regulation of the integral membrane proteins, and to determine the 3-dimensional structures of functional complexes. Members of the team focus on different biological systems exploiting their complementary expertise in cryo-electron microscopy, mass spectrometry, multi-omic analysis, optical imaging, biochemistry and cellular signaling. In the Ferguson group, we focus on select RTKs where modulation of function by lipid components is well characterized, and the potential to alter receptor function with drugs that modulate the local membrane environment has been suggested.

Antibody modulation of RTK regulation

Our laboratory has a long-standing interest in the mechanisms of inhibition of receptor tyrosine kinases (RTKs) by therapeutic antibodies, most notably those that bind the epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR) - one of the first targets of antibody-based drugs to treat cancer. Most therapeutic antibodies to EGFR family members were developed before there was any structural understanding of the activation mechanism of these receptors. Whereas most therapeutic EGFR antibodies block ligand binding, inhibition of EGFR activity contributes little to the clinical effects. We seek to understand how select existing antibodies may alter receptor conformation to modulate function and whether somatic mutations in EGFR receptors may alter antibody binding. We are also developing new mechanism-based antibody therapeutics, drawing on the rich understanding of EGFR family receptor structure and dynamics. We combine X-ray crystallography, cryoEM, biochemistry, computational analysis, and cellular studies to address these questions.

Medical Subject Headings (MeSH)

Binding Sites, Antibody; Biochemistry; Cell Membrane; Cryoelectron Microscopy; Crystallography, X-Ray; ErbB Receptors; Membrane Proteins; Molecular Structure; Oncogene Proteins; Phospholipids; Protein Binding; Protein Structure, Tertiary; Protein-Tyrosine Kinases; Receptor Aggregation; Receptor Protein-Tyrosine Kinases; Signal Transduction

Research at a Glance

Yale Co-Authors

Frequent collaborators of Kathryn M. Ferguson's published research.







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