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Cesar Arenas-Mena

Associate Professor

Dr. Arenas-Mena initiated his research career at the CSIC, Barcelona, studying the transcriptional regulation of water stress genes in plants. During his postdoctoral research at Caltech, Pasadena, he studied the expression of Hox cluster genes during embryonic and postembryonic development and contributed to the characterization of the gene regulatory network that controls endomesoderm specification. At San Diego State University he studied trascriptional multipotency mechanisms in a polychaete model system that has feeding trochophore larva. Ongoing projects relate to the genome-wide characterization transcriptional regulatory mechanisms during development, metazoan evolution and transcriptional multipotency.


BS. Universitat de Barcelona

Ph.D. CID/CSIC and Universitat de Barcelona

Postdoctoral research at Caltech

Scholarship and Publications

Full List of publications at:

Seleted publications

Arenas-Mena, C., Miljovska, S., Rice, E. J., Gurges, J., Shashikant, T., Wang, Z., Ercan, S., & Danko, C. G. (2021). Identification and prediction of developmental enhancers in sea urchin embryos. BMC Genomics, 22(1), 751.

Arenas-Mena, C. (2017). The origins of developmental gene regulation. Evolution & Development, 19(2), 96–107.

Hajdu, M., Calle, J., Puno, A., Haruna, A., & Arenas-Mena, C. (2016). Transcriptional and post-transcriptional regulation of histone variant H2A.Z during sea urchin development. Development, Growth & Differentiation, 9(3), 231–243.

Wong, K. S.-Y., & Arenas-Mena, C. (2016). Expression of GATA and POU transcription factors during the development of the planktotrophic trochophore of the polychaete serpulid Hydroides elegans. Evolution & Development, 254–266.

Arenas-Mena, C., & Coffman, J. A. (2015). Developmental control of transcriptional and proliferative potency during the evolutionary emergence of animals. Developmental Dynamics, 244(10), 11093–11201.

Arenas-Mena, C., & Li, A. (2014). Development of a feeding trochophore in the polychaete Hydroides elegans. The International Journal of Developmental Biology, 58, 575–583.

Arenas-Mena, C. (2013). Brachyury, Tbx2/3 and sall expression during embryogenesis of the indirectly developing polychaete Hydroides elegans. The International Journal of Developmental Biology, 57(1), 73–83.

Arenas-Mena, C. (2008). The transcription factors HeBlimp and HeT-brain of an indirectly developing polychaete suggest ancestral endodermal, gastrulation, and sensory cell-type specification roles. Journal of Experimental Zoology Part B: Molecular and Developmental Evolution, 310B(7), 567–576.

Arenas-Mena, C. (2010). Indirect development, transdifferentiation and the macroregulatory evolution of metazoans. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 365(1540), 653–669.

Arenas-Mena, C. (2007). Developmental transcriptional-competence model for a histone variant and a unicellular origin scenario for transcriptional-multipotency mechanisms. Evolution & Development, 9(3), 208–211.

Arenas-Mena, C., Wong, K. S.-Y., & Arandi-Foroshani, N. R. (2007). Histone H2A. Z expression in two indirectly developing marine invertebrates correlates with undifferentiated and multipotent cells. Evolution & Development, 9(3), 231–243.

Davidson, E. H., Rast, J. P., Oliveri, P., Ransick, A., Calestani, C., Yuh, C.-H., Minokawa, T., Amore, G., Hinman, V., Arenas-Mena, C., Brown, C. T., Livi, C. B., Revilla, R., Rust, A. G., Pan, Z., Schilstra, M. J., Clarke, P. J. C., Arnone, M. I., Rowen, L., … Bolouri, H. (2002). A Genomic Regulatory Network for Development. Science, 295(5560), 1669–1678.

We study developmental gene regulatory mechanisms and their evolution.  We use sea urchins and a new polychaete model system.  The emphasis is on transcriptional gene regulatory networks (GRNs) (Peter and Davidson, 2015) and we combine gene-targeted and genome-wide approaches.
• Genome-wide characterization of transcriptional regulatory elements
In collaboration with the laboratory of Dr. Charles Danko at Cornell University, we are performing genome-wide analysis of sea urchin transcriptional regulatory elements during development.  We use ATAC-seq, PRO-seq to identify and functionally characterize the enhancers and promoters that control sea urchin development (Arenas-Mena et at., 2021).  The research questions relate to transcriptional networks and the unicellular origins of developmental gene regulation (Arenas-Mena, 2017).  In particular, we are interested in the mechanisms that determine enhancer-promoter specificity and the unicellular precursors of distal enhancers.

Genome-Wide data set including ATAC-seq, PolII Chip-seq, PRO-seq at the H2A.Z locus

• Developmental control of transcriptional and proliferative potency
My original hypothesis of a histone variant H2A.Z role in developmental potency (Arenas-Mena, 2007; Arenas-Mena et al., 2007) has been validated experimentally (Arenas-Mena and Coffman, 2015).  H2A.Z is associated with transcriptional regulatory DNA, where it promotes an open chromatin state accessible to sequence-specific transcription factors.  We study of the cis-regulatory machinery that controls the developmental expression of H2A.Z (Hajdu et al., 2016) and extended this approach to CylinD, which controls metazoan cell proliferation (Arenas-Mena and Coffman, 2015).   In addition, we have elaborated a method of developmental reprogramming by inducible expression of regulatory genes, and we are testing how H2A.Z maintains  transcriptional potency during development.

Outline of cis-regulatory analysis of H2A.Z including ATAC-seq data, major BAC recombineering construct and its GFP expression


• A new polychaete system relevant to bilaterian body plan evolution
We have spearheaded the implementation of methods and resources in the annelid Hydroides elegans, an indirectly developing polychaete with feeding trochophore relevant to bilaterian body plan evolution (Arenas-Mena and Li, 2014). We are currently undertaking transgenic and genomics approaches in this new model.

Current Lab Members

Serhat Akin, PhD student, MCD program.


Former Lab Members


Mihai Hajdu



Jasmine Calle
Andrea Puno
Aminat Haruna    
Justin Gurges
Krystal Baird
Winnie Darius
Navid Arandi
Tia Leung
Fedan Avrumova    
Crystal Lucas
Merlin Raj
Jose Alvarenga
Leila Lager
Alfonso Clemente    
Andrew Fischler    
Ashley Woods    
Joseph Deas    
Kasey Mobley    
Moriel Khaykin    
Rossana Cruciata    
Charisse White    
Dimitri Mazidis     
Jacob Maddela
Lisa Lamanna    
Mark Montano    
Monique Brewton     
Natalie Birkin    
Ojeh Agnes    



Zihe Wang
Kimberly Suk-Ying Wong    
Ava Li,    
Shona Shonghai    
Nayomi Fernando    
Dasari Srividya    
Triveni Golagani    

Strongylocentrotus purpuratus 

Research in sea urchins has lead the experimental characterization of developmental gene regulatory networks thanks to their experimental and biological.  Genomic resouces are available at EchinoBase. Cover from (Arenas-Mena et al., 2000). 

Cover of Development 2000 including sea urchin blastula, larva, metamorphosing lava and  juvenile.

Arenas-Mena et. al, 2000


Adult Sea Urchin


Hydroides elegans

Arenas-Mena et. al, 2006

Hydroides elegans

We have lead efforts to develop a polychaete model system with spiral cleavage and feeding trochophore that has great evolutionary and developmental relevance (Arenas-Mena and Li, 2014).  Cover from (Arenas-Mena, 2013). 

Cover of The International Journal of Developmental Biology. Stages of Hydroides elegans including adult in tube, embryo, and larva

Arenas-Mena, 2013


Nasa logo

NASA Exobiology




NIH logo


Charles Danko, Cornell University

Sevinc Ercan, NYU

Bluma Lesch, Yale University




CUNY Graduate Center 

Developmental Biology 


Developmental Biology
Gene Regulatory Systems
Cell Biology
Evolution of Development
Invertebrate zoology
General Biology


Cesar Arenas-Mena

Contact Information

Office: Building 6S Room 140
Fax: 718.982.3852
Usually after each class or by appointment

Research opportunities

I am currently recruiting Ph.D. students from the graduate programs in

I am also accepting highly motivated Master's and undergraduate students.