Faculty Rank

  • Professor


Research Focus

My research is focused on aspects of gene regulation in the liver during development and disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer.  Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the most common form of liver cancer, is the fifth most common cancer and third leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide.  HCC is increasing dramatically in the United States, where it is projected to be the third leading cause of cancer deaths by 2030.  This escalation is due, in part, to the continued rise in obesity-associated Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.  Much of our research is centered on the relationship between high-fat diet, liver damage and HCC.  We employ a variety of biochemical and molecular genetic strategies using in vitro systems, tissue culture cells, and genetically modified mouse models.  Several years ago, we discovered a gene that encodes a transcription factor called Zinc fingers and homeoboxes 2 (Zhx2).  Interestingly, we have found that Zhx2 controls the expression of genes that regulate lipid levels.  Other studies by my lab and our collaborators suggest that Zhx2 is also involved in HCC. Our research on the role of Zhx2 in fally liver disease and HCC is performed in close collaboration with Drs. Martha Peterson and Jieyun Jiang (Markey Cancer Center, UK) and  Roberto Gedaly (Division Chief of Transplant Surgery at UK). We are also collaborating with Jake Lusis (UCLA) and Chunhong Ma (Shandong University, China).

I have also served as Director of Graduate Studies (DGS) for the Integrated Biomedical Sciences PhD program since 2011, which serves as a gateway to the seven biomedical sciences PhD programs in the UK College of Medicine.

Contact Information

210 Combs Research Building
800 Rose Street, University of Kentucky
Lexington, KY 40536
United States



  1. Zinc Fingers and Homeoboxes 2 (Zhx2) regulates Major Urinary Protein gene expression in the mouse liver.
    Jiang J, Creasy CT, Purnell J, Peterson ML, Spear, BT. Journal of Biological Chemistry ePub ahead of print, March 3, 2017.
  2. Zinc Fingers and Homeoboxes 2 (Zhx2) Regulates Sexually Dimorphic Cyp Gene Expression in the Adult Mouse Liver.
    Creasy KT, Jiang J, Ren H, Peterson ML, Spear BT. Gene Expression.17:7-17, 2016.
  3. Pericentral activity of AFP enhancer E3 and glutamine synthetase upstream enhancer in the adult liver are regulated by β-catenin.
    Fleishaker EL, Butler JE, Spear BT. Hepatology 56:1892-1901, 2012.
  4. Zhx2 and Zbtb20, novel regulators of postnatal alpha-fetoprotein expression and their potential role in gene reactivation during liver cancer.
    Peterson M, Ma C, Spear BT. Seminars in Cancer Biology 21:21-27, 2011.
  5. Hereditary persistence of alpha-fetoprotein and H19 expression in BALB/cJ mouse liver is caused by a hypomorphic mutation in the zinc-fingers and homeoboxes gene, Zhx2.
    Perincheri S, Dingle RWC, Peterson ML, Spear BT. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 102:396-401, 2005.