Nicholas Stavropoulos

2012 Regional Award Winner — Post-Doc

Nicholas Stavropoulos

Current Position:
Assistant Professor, Department of Neuroscience Institute

New York University Neuroscience Institute


Recognized for: Identifying novel genes and molecular pathways that have a vital role in governing sleep

Areas of Research Interest and Expertise: The molecular pathways and neuronal circuits that control the regulation of sleep and that mediate its restorative functions


  • PhD, Genetics, Harvard University Medical School
  • BA, Biochemistry, Harvard University

Nicholas Stavropoulos’ research merges the study of animal behavior, genetic analysis, molecular neurobiology, and biochemistry.  His primary research focus is on sleep.

Although sleep is a fundamental animal behavior that is millions of years old and whose importance is widely appreciated, the mechanisms that underlie its regulation and function are still not well understood.  Dr. Stavropoulos’s research exploited the fact that the genetically accessible fruit fly, drosophila  melanogaster, sleeps in a manner strikingly similar to mammals.  He conducted a large-scale analysis of sleep-wake behavior in nearly 21,000 chemically mutagenized animals, isolated and characterized insomniac, a mutant that exhibits a profound decrease in the duration and consolidation of sleep, and then cloned insomniac to show that it functions within the brain to control sleep.

Dr. Stavropoulos’ research showed that insomniac is likely to engage a protein degradation pathway in neurons to regulate sleep, and that Cul3 and Nedd8, two additional genes in this pathway, are vital for the proper regulation of sleep. The expression of these genes within the vertebrate brain suggests that neuronal proteolysis may play a fundamental role in controlling sleep throughout the animal kingdom.

Given the economic and public health impact of insomnia and other sleep disorders, the answers to the questions Dr. Stavropoulos investigates could have major effects on the treatment of human disease.

"Given that we spend one-third of our lives asleep—in a behavioral state largely disengaged from the external world—it is remarkable that the purpose of sleep is still not well understood. The long-term goals of our research are to identify and characterize genes, molecular mechanisms, and neuronal circuits underlying the regulation and function of sleep, and to understand how disruptions in these components are associated with sleep disorders."

Key Publications:

  1. Stavropoulos N, Young MW. Insomniac and Cullin-3 regulate sleep and wakefulness in Drosophila. Neuron. 2011
  2. Stavropoulos N, Rowntree RK, Lee JT. Identification of developmentally specific enhancers in the regulation of X chromosome inactivation. Mol Cell Biol. 2005
  3. Stavropoulos N, Lu N, Lee JT. A functional role for Tsix transcription in blocking Xist RNA accumulation but not in X-chromosome choice. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2001

Other Honors:

2014 Whitehead Fellow
2014 J. Christian Gillin, M.D. Grant, Sleep Research Society Foundation  
2014 Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow
2013 Leon Levy Foundation Neuroscience Fellow
2013 Whitehall Foundation Award
2007-2009 NIH Ruth L. Kirchstein National Research Service Award (F32)
2000-2003 Albert J. Ryan Fellow
1998-2003 HHMI Predoctoral Fellow

In the Media:

An Ancient Mystery. NYU Physician. Fall 2014
Nicholas Stavropoulos awarded a 2014 Whitehead Fellowship for Junior Faculty. NYU Langone News. June 25, 2014