Scott Atwood, PhD

Scott received his Ph.D. in Molecular Biology from University of Oregon where he studied how cell polarity influenced cell fate in fly neural stem cells. He continued his training at Stanford University where he investigated basal cell carcinoma and the evolution of drug resistance. He is currently exploring cell fate decisions in skin stem cells and cancer. 


The Atwood lab is interested in how stem cell heterogeneity drives epidermal homeostasis and disease. We focus on protein kinase regulation of signaling pathways and transcription factors, using models of skin development and basal cell carcinoma, to determine how kinases influence cell fate by controlling the genetic landscape of the cell.

Cancer Initiation and Progression

Mutations that activate the Hedgehog pathway drive growth of a variety of cancers including basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and medulloblastoma, accounting for up to 25% of all human cancer deaths. Despite the critical nature of Hedgehog signaling during development, how Hedgehog mediates tumor initiation, growth, regression, and drug resistance remains poorly understood. For instance, use of drugs that target the Hedgehog pathway GPCR Smoothened are effective in treating advanced or metastatic BCC, however over 50% of advanced tumors harbor innate resistance and over 20% of tumors that initially respond to drug acquire resistance each year, illustrating the need for additional targets for therapy. Our lab has identified atypical Protein Kinase C (aPKC) as a novel Hedgehog target gene and activator of Hedgehog signaling. aPKC forms a positive feedback loop by phosphorylating and activating the transcription factor GLI1, resulting in an increase in DNA binding and transcriptional activity. Interestingly, sensitive and drug resistant BCCs magnify aPKC activity to drive high levels of pathway activation and therapeutic use of aPKC or GLI inhibitors selectively suppress Hedgehog signaling and tumor growth, suggesting the use of aPKC or GLI antagonists as viable options to treat drug-resistant tumors. Projects in the lab include defining the drivers of tumor regression, identifying and therapeutically targeting novel kinase-substrate interactions that drive tumor growth, understanding how recurrent mutations translate to functional consequences, and delineating how tumor cells interact with their environment.

Skin Stem Cell Fate Specification

Stem cells give rise to many complex tissues such as the skin and hair follicle by controlling cell fate specification. How epidermal stem cells choose their fate remains unclear. Our lab has identified robust heterogeniety in the basal stem cells of human skin through single cell RNA-sequencing that changes the way we appreciate how the human epidermis develops. We have identified four spatially distinct epidermal stem cell subpopulations that contribute to epidermal developoment and homeostasis. Projects in the lab include defining how epidermal stem cell populations are related by lineage, how they communicate, how they pattern the skin, and which population preferentially gives rise to hyperproliferative skin disorders such as psoriasis and basal cell carcinoma. 


See a complete list of publications at

Selected publications (** Denotes equal contribution, # Denotes co-corresponding authors)

  • PI3K promotes basal cell carcinoma through kinase-induced p21 degradation
    Rachel Y. Chow, Ung Seop Jeon, Taylor M. Levee, Gurleen Kaur, Daniel P. Cedeno, Linda T. Doan, Scott X. Atwood
    Frontiers in Oncology. 2021. 11:668247.
  • MTOR promotes basal cell carcinoma growth through atypical PKC
    Rachel Y. Chow, Taylor M. Levee, Gurleen Kaur, Daniel P. Cedeno, Linda T. Doan, Scott X. Atwood
    Experimental Dermatology. 2021. 30(3):358-366.
  • Fostering a healthy culture: Biological relevance of in vitro and ex vivo skin models 
    Scott X. Atwood# and Maksim V. Plikus#
    Experimental Dermatology. 2021. 30(3):298-303.
  • Single cell transcriptomics of human epidermis identifies basal stem cell transition states 
    Shuxiong Wang**, Michael L. Drummond**, Christian F. Guerrero-Juarez, Eric Tarapore, Adam L. MacLean, Adam R. Stabell, Stephanie C. Wu, Guadalupe Gutierrez, Bao T. That, Claudia A. Benavente, Qing Nie#, Scott X. Atwood#
    Nature Communications. 2020. 11(1): 4239.
  • Divergent resistance mechanisms to immunotherapy explain responses in different skin cancers 
    Emmanuel Dollinger**, Daniel R. Bergman, Peijie Zhou, Scott X. Atwood#, Qing Nie#
    Cancers. 2020. 12(10): 2946.
  • AP-1 and TGFB cooperativity drives non-canonical Hedgehog signaling in resistant basal cell carcinoma 
    Catherine D. Yao, Daniel Haensel, Sadhana Gaddam, Tiffany Patel, Scott X. Atwood, Kavita Y. Sarin, Ramon J. Whitson, Siegen McKellar, Gautam Shankar, Sumaira Aasi, Kerri Rieger, Anthony E. Oro
    Nature Communications. 2020. 11(1): 5079.
  • Actin polymerization controls cilia-mediated signaling
    Michael L. Drummond, Mischa Li, Eric Tarapore, Tuyen T.L. Nguyen, Baina J. Barouni, Shaun Cruz, Kevin C. Tan, Anthony E. Oro#, Scott X. Atwood#
    Journal of Cell Biology. 2018. 217(9):3255-66.
  • MTSS1/Src family kinase dysregulation underlies multiple inherited ataxias
    Alexander S. Brown, Pratap Meera, Banu Altindag, Ravi Chopra, Emma Perkins, Sharan Paul, Daniel R. Scoles, Eric Tarapore, Jessica Magri, Haoran Huang, Mandy Jackson, Vikram G. Shakkottai, Thomas S. Otis, Stefan M. Pulst, Scott X. Atwood#, Anthony E. Oro#
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 2018. 115(52):E12407-E12416.
  • Noncanonical hedgehog pathway activation through SRF-MLK1 promotes drug resistance in basal cell carcinomas 
    Ramon J. Whitson, Alex Lee, Nicole M. Urman, Amar Mirza, Catherine Y. Yao, Alexander S. Brown, Jiang R. Li, Gautam Shankar, Micah A. Fry, Scott X. Atwood, Eunice Y. Lee, S. Tyler Hollmig, Sumaira Z. Aasi, Kavita Y. Sarin, Matthew P. Scott, Ervin H. Epstein, Jean Y. Tang, Anthony E. Oro
    Nature Medicine. 2018. 24(3):271-81.
  • Smoothened variants explain the majority of drug resistance in basal cell carcinoma
    Scott X. Atwood**, Kavita Y. Sarin**, Ramon J. Whitson, Jiang R. Li, Geurim Kim, Melika Rezaee, Mina S. Ally, Jinah Kim, Catherine Yao, Anne L.S. Chang, Anthony E. Oro#, Jean Y. Tang#
    Cancer Cell. 2015. 27(3):342-53.
  • RAS/MAPK activation drives resistance to Smo inhibition, metastasis and tumor evolution in Shh pathway-dependent tumors
    Xuesong Zhao, Tatyana Ponomaryov, Kimberly J. Ornell, Pengcheng Zhou, Sukriti K. Dabral, Ekaterina Pak, Wei Li, Scott X. Atwood, Ramon J. Whitson, Anne Lynn S. Chang, Jiang Li, Anthony E. Oro, Jennifer A. Chan, Joseph F. Kelleher, Rosalind A. Segal
    Cancer Research. 2015. 75(17):3623-35.
  • Epigenetic targeting of Hedgehog pathway transcriptional output through BET bromodomain inhibition
    Yujie Tang, Sharareh Gholamin, Simone Schubert, Minde I. Willardson, Alex Lee, Pratiti Bandopadhayay, Guillame Bergthold, Sabran Masoud, Brian Nguyen, Nujsaubnusi Vue, Brianna Balansay, Furong Yu, Sekyung Oh, Pamelyn Woo, Spenser Chen, Anitha Ponnuswami, Michelle Monje, Scott X. Atwood, Ramon J. Whitson, Siddhartha Mitra, Samuel H. Cheshier, Jun Qi, Rameen Beroukhim, Jean Y. Tang, Rob Wechsler-Reya, Anthony E. Oro, Brian A. Link, James E. Bradner, Yoon-Jae Cho
    Nature Medicine. 2014. 20(7):732-40.
  • GLI activation by atypical protein kinase C iota/lambda regulates the growth of basal cell carcinomas
    Scott X. Atwood#, Mischa Li, Alex Lee, Jean Y. Tang, Anthony E. Oro#
    Nature. 2013. 494(7438):484-8.
  • MIM and Cortactin antagonism regulates ciliogenesis and Hedgehog signaling
    Marina Bershteyn, Scott X. Atwood, Wei-Meng Woo, Mischa Li, Anthony E. Oro
    Developmental Cell. 2010. 19(2):270-83.
  • aPKC phosphorylates Miranda to polarize fate determinants during neuroblast asymmetric cell division
    Scott X. Atwood and Kenneth E. Prehoda
    Current Biology. 2009. 19(9):723-9.
  • Cdc42 acts downstream of Bazooka to regulate neuroblast polarity through Par-6-aPKC
    Scott X. Atwood, Chiswili Chabu, Rhiannon R. Penkert, Chris Q. Doe, Kenneth E. Prehoda
    Journal of Cell Science. 2007. 120(Pt 18):3200-6.

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