Dr. Catherine Pallen

Emeritus Principal Investigator

Ph.D. [Medical Biochemistry] (University of Calgary)
Associate Member, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of British Columbia
Professor, Division of Hematology and Oncology, Department of Pediatrics, University of British Columbia

Research Interests

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Myelin is a protective coating that ensheathes the nerve fibers (termed axons) which carry information to and from the brain. Its main purpose is to enhance the speed of impulse conduction and to protect axons from unnecessary damage. Myelin can be impaired from traumatic injury or also from diseases like multiple sclerosis and leukodystrophy. In such cases, loss of myelin can lead to paralysis, loss of sensation, of learning impairments; however, work is being done to understand how myelin can be regenerated (a process termed re-myelination) which may help alleviate these negative outcomes.

Dr. Catherine Pallen is highly regarded for her research on cell signaling and understanding the role and mechanism by which a molecule called PTPa (protein tyrosine phosphatase alpha) influences myelination. Her work has shown that PTPa is required for normal growth and maturation of myelin-producing cells and she has developed experimental models to investigate how PTPa functions for myelin repair.

Another area of her research is focused on understanding pain pathways and finding better treatments based on cellular regulation. PTPa is known to be involved in integrin signaling (cell receptors essential for cell processes) and because site-specific phosphorylation of PTP molecules is poorly understood, its role in cell migration, development, survival and immune activation is still being studied.  Furthermore, PTPa has been linked to the function of a pain-mediating receptor (N-methyl-D-aspartate, NMDA) and could lead to improved treatments for long-term persistent pain.

Techniques employed in the labs:

  • Cell culturing
  • Transfection of plasmids and small-interfering RNA
  • Immunoblot Assays
  • Peptide Microarrays


Some of Dr. Pallen’s recent major awards and accomplishments include:

  • Award for Excellence in Mentoring Early Career Faculty (Faculty of Medicine, UBC, 2016)

Current Lab Members

Masters Students Ph.D. Students Post-Doctoral Fellows Research Staff
Cassandra Dawson Dominik Sommerfeld Dr. Philip Ly Jing Wang
Lisa Decotret Arshia Beigi

Trainee Awards

Year Name Award
2014 Dr. Philip Ly
  • Postdoctoral Fellowship Award (Canadian Institutes of Health Research)
  • Trainee Travel Grant (Child & Family Research Institute)
  • Postdoctoral Fellowship Award (Child & Family Research Institute) [declined]
  • Postdoctoral Fellowship Award (Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada)

Current Opportunities in the Lab

Please contact Dr. Pallen with inquiries.

Recent publications

  • Decotret, LR et al.. 2023. Development and validation of an advanced ex vivo brain slice invasion assay to model glioblastoma cell invasion into the complex brain microenvironment.. Front Oncol. doi: 10.3389/fonc.2023.976945.
  • Decotret, LR et al.. 2021. Receptor-type protein tyrosine phosphatase alpha (PTPα) mediates MMP14 localization and facilitates triple-negative breast cancer cell invasion.. Mol Biol Cell. doi: 10.1091/mbc.E20-01-0060.
  • Ly, PTT, Stewart, C, Pallen, CJ. 2018. PTPα is required for laminin-2-induced Fyn-Akt signaling to drive oligodendrocyte differentiation.. J Cell Sci. doi: 10.1242/jcs.212076.
  • Shih, Y, Ly, PTT, Wang, J, Pallen, CJ. 2017. Glial and Neuronal Protein Tyrosine Phosphatase Alpha (PTPα) Regulate Oligodendrocyte Differentiation and Myelination.. J Mol Neurosci. doi: 10.1007/s12031-017-0941-x.
  • Khanna, RS, Le, HT, Wang, J, Fung, TC, Pallen, CJ. 2015. The interaction of protein-tyrosine phosphatase α (PTPα) and RACK1 protein enables insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1)-stimulated Abl-dependent and -independent tyrosine phosphorylation of PTPα.. J Biol Chem. doi: 10.1074/jbc.M114.624247.
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