Research Focus

(See an interview of Dr. Zhao about our lab research:)

The research in our laboratory focuses on understanding the molecular mechanisms that regulate neural stem cells and neuronal development, with the goal to develop better treatment for human brain disorders.

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Emily Jobe (CMB/MBTG)

During development, stem cells are responsible for generating all the tissues and cells of an organism. In adult mammals, stem cells exist in many tissues throughout life and play critical roles in physiological functions and tissue regeneration.

We are particularly interested in neural stem cells in the central nervous system. We believe that these neural stem cells  have significant roles in normal brain functions, such as learning and memory and brain’s response to injuries.

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Adult mammalian neural stem cells differentiate into neurons (green) and glia (red) in culture dish (by Emily Jobe)

We are interested in two aspects of gene expression regulation: epigenetic mechanisms and post-transcriptional regulation. Epigenetic mechanisms, including DNA methylation, chromatin remodeling, and noncoding RNAs, have profound regulatory roles in mammalian gene expression. Disturbance of these interacting systems can lead to inappropriate expression or silencing of genes, causing an array of multi-system disorders. Post-transcriptional gene regulations are mediated by complex mechanisms, including noncoding RNAs such as microRNAs (e.g. miR-137, miR-184, miR-195, etc.) and RNA-binding proteins (e.g. FMRP, Hu). Many of these regulators are important for human brain development.

We use mouse genetics, primary neural stem cells, and human patient-derived pluripotent stem cells as model systems in our research. We employ a combination of genetic, genomic, proteomic, imaging, and behavioral methods to interrogate the roles of genes, epigenetic regulators,  RNAs in neuronal development and their implications in human neurodevelopmental disorders, such as Rett Syndrome, Autism, and Fragile X syndrome.

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Adult-born new neurons genetically labeled by two different retroviruses (red and green) for studying FMRP and FXR2P regulation of neuronal development. (Guo et al, Cell Reports 2015)