Kassandra Ori-McKenney

Kassandra Ori-McKenney

Position Title
Assistant Professor

Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology, College of Biological Sciences

LSA 3224

Profile Introduction

Become enchanted with the neuronal cytoskeleton! The goal of my lab is to understand the complex interplay between microtubule-associated proteins (MAPs) that regulate a number of cytoskeleton-based processes during neuronal development and maintenance. Microtubules are dynamic polymers that not only provide structural support, but also serve as intracellular tracks for dynein and kinesin motors that must efficiently transport cargoes for the establishment and maintenance of cellular organization and function. However, these motors encounter numerous non-enzymatic MAPs on the lattice that can dictate when and where motor progression can occur within a cell. We are only beginning to understand how MAPs in their unaltered states control microtubule dynamics and microtubule-based transport, but MAPs themselves are heavily modified by a handful of kinases whose regulatory effects remain unclear. Our lab seeks to dissect the multiple layers of regulation of microtubule-based processes by studying the biochemical and genetic relationships between kinases, MAPs, and motors both in vivo and in vitro.

Research Interests

Neuronal Cytoarchitecture

How is the cytoskeleton organized and regulated in order to produce a distinct neuronal morphology?

Regulation of the Microtubule Cytoskeleton

How do MAPs regulate microtubule dynamics and microtubule-based transport, and how are these functions altered in disease?

Drosophila Neurobiology

How does traumatic brain injury in Drosophila cause neurodegeneration and what are the behavioral manifestations in response to this injury?

Grad Group Affiliations

  • Biochemistry, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology
  • Neuroscience

Specialties / Focus

  • Biochemistry
  • Cell Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Molecular Genetics
  • Neurobiology


  • MCB 160L Principles of Genetics Laboratory, Winter
  • MCB 110Y iBioseminars, Spring

Honors and Awards

  • Pew Foundation Biomedical Scholar
  • Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative Pilot Award
  • March of Dimes Basil O'Connor Starter Scholar Research Award
  • NIH K99/R00 Pathway to Independence Award (NICHD)
  • Jane Coffin Childs Postdoctoral Fellowship


    • 2011 PhD Biological Sciences Columbia University
    • 2005 BA Neuroscience and Behavior Vassar College


    Publications from UC Davis:

    Monroy BY,  Tan TC, Oclaman JM, Han JS, Simo S,  Nowakowski DW, McKenney RJ, Ori-McKenney KM. A Combinatorial MAP Code Dictates Polarized Microtubule Transport. BioRxiv (2019).

    Tan R, Lam A, Tan TC, Han JS, Nowakowski DW, Vershinin M, Simo S, Ori-McKenney KM*, McKenney RJ*. Microtubules Gate Tau Condensation to Spatially Regulate Microtubule Functions. Nature Cell Biology, 21, 1078-85 (2019).

    Metivier M, Monroy BY, Gallaud E, Caous R, Pascal A, Richard-Parpaillon L, Guichet A, Ori-McKenney KM, Giet R. Dual control of Kinesin-1 recruitment to microtubules by Ensconsin in Drosophila neuroblasts and oocytes. Development, 146 (2019).

    Monroy BY, Sawyer DL, Ackermann BE, Borden MM, Tan TC, Ori-McKenney KM. Competition between microtubule-associated proteins directs motor transport. Nature Communications, 9, Article number: 1497 (2018).

    Ly C, Greb AC, Cameron LP, Wong JM, Barragan EV, Wilson PC, Burbach KF, Soltanzadeh Zarandi S, Sood A, Paddy MR, Duim WC, Dennis MY, McAllister AK, Ori-McKenney KM, Gray JA, Olson DE. Psychedelics promote structural and functional neural plasticity. Cell Reports, 11, 3170-82 (2018).

    Ramkumar A, Monroy BY, Ori-McKenney KM. (Invited Review) ReMAPping the Microtubule Landscape: How Phosphorylation Dictates the Activities of Microtubule-Associated Proteins. Developmental Dynamics, 247, 138-55 (2018).

    Selected Publications from Graduate and Postdoc Work:

    Ori-McKenney KM, McKenney RJ, Huang HH, Li T, Meltzer S, Jan LY, Vale RD, Wiita AR, Jan YN. Phosphorylation of β-Tubulin by the Down Syndrome Kinase, Minibrain/DYRK1a, Regulates Microtubule Dynamics and Dendrite Morphogenesis. Neuron, 90, 551-63 (2016).

    Ori-McKenney KM, Jan LY, Jan YN. Golgi outposts shape dendrite morphology by functioning as sites of acentrosomal microtubule nucleation in neurons. Neuron, 76, 921-30 (2012).

    • Preview: “Neuronal Morphogenesis: Golgi Outposts, Acentrosomal Microtubule Nucleation, and Dendritic Branching.” Lewis TL and Polleux F. Neuron, 76, 862-4 (2012).
    • Editor’s Choice in Neuroscience: “Branching Out: Satellites of the Golgi apparatus generate microtubules used to grow outer dendrite branches in Drosophila neurons.” Cossins D. The Scientist, 52 (2013).
    • F1000 Review

    Harms M, Ori-McKenney KM, Scoto M, Tuck E, Bell S, Ma D, Masi S, Allred P, Al-Lozi, M, Reilly M, Miller L, Jani-Acsadi A, Shy M, Pestronk A, Muntoni F, Vallee RB, Baloh R. Mutations in the tail domain of cytoplasmic dynein (DYNC1H1) cause motor neuron disease in humans.  Neurology, 78, 1-7 (2012).

    Ori-McKenney KM*, Xu, J*, Gross SP, Vallee RB.  A neurodegenerative mutation reveals novel features of cytoplasmic dynein motor regulation.  Nature Cell Biology, 12, 1228-34 (2010). (*Co-first authors)

    • News and Views: “Dynein at Odd Angles?” Hendricks AG, Lazarus JE, Holzbaur ELF, Nature Cell Biology, 12, 1126 (2010).