Neurobiology, Glycobiology and Genomics in Brain Disorders

Heparan sulfate is a sugar molecule that covers the surface of all human cells and plays an important role in the pathogenesis of multiple brain disorders, such as Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson’s disease. Long genes (> 100 kilobases) are specifically expressed in the brain and show unique genomic and epigenomic features and are associated with brain disorders. The Zhao Lab aims to understand the role of heparan sulfate and long genes in brain health and diseases, particularly in Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Kallmann syndrome.

Primary investigator: Assistant Professor, Ying-tao “Jerry” Zhao, Ph.D


Neurobiology and Thyroid Hormone Signaling in Glial Tissues in Health and Disease

Astrocytes are the among one most abundant cells in the CNS and are involved in neurotransmitter and ion homeostasis, synaptic and neuronal modulation and blood-brain-barrier maintenance. The Stout Lab studies the molecular mechanisms by which astrocytes mediate cognition, memory formation-recall, and neuronal support for brain function in health and disease. We use extremely advanced microscopy tools and cell culture techniques to elucidate the subcellular mechanisms of hypothyroidism, autism spectrum disorders, traumatic brain injury, and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease

Primary investigator: Associate Professor, Randy Stout, Ph.D


Digital Pathology and Immunohistochemistry

The Petcu Lab focuses on mechanisms of neural and bone tissue regeneration, including 3D bioprinting methods. In addition, the Petcu Lab is experienced in quantitative digital pathology and immunohistochemistry for clinical diagnostic and research in histopathology within classical and hybrid digital environments.

Primary investigator: Associate Professor, Eugen Petcu, M.D, Ph.D


Olfactory deficits in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Differences in sensory function have been documented for a number of neurodevelopmental conditions, and autism is characterized by challenging sensory experiences that significantly impact the diagnosed individuals. The Otazu Lab focuses on investigating olfactory deficits in mouse models of autism. To gain a comprehensive understanding of how autism affects neural processing, we employ a diverse range of approaches, including behavioral analysis, computational modeling, and advanced imaging techniques. Our primary goal is to leverage these findings to develop effective strategies aimed at restoring or improving the sensory deficits associated with autism.

Primary investigator: Assistant Professor, Gonzalo Otazu, Ph.D


Organelle Communications and Cell Defense System in Heart Failure

Cardiac muscle structure and function is determined by the balance of synthesis and degradation pathways, regulated by several signaling pathways such as ubiquitin-proteasome and the autophagy-lysosome systems. The autophagy-lysosome system is crucial in protecting the heart, but dysregulation can cause damage. The Kobayashi (Koba) lab studies lysosomal dysfunction, specifically Lysosomal Membrane Permeabilization (LMP), which can lead to cell death. Our goal is to develop therapeutic strategies to prevent cardiac dysfunction, especially in cases of diabetes.

Primary investigator: Assistant Professor, Satoru Kobayashi, Ph.D.


Neural Cellular and Tissue Pathophysiology in Gastrointestinal Pathophysiology

The gut-brain axis is a bidirectional neural and humoral signaling structure that connects and modulates mental and gastrointestinal health pathophysiology. The research focus of the Grubisic Lab is to understand the role of enteric glia in the gut epithelial barrier function and the epithelial signal transduction. Such efforts are expected to reveal mechanistic underpinnings of the gut-brain axis and open new ways for the discovery of novel and specific therapeutics to treat gastrointestinal and systemic disorders, including inflammatory bowel disease and metabolic, neurodegenerative, and neurodevelopmental diseases.

Primary investigator: Assistant Professor, Vladimir Grubisic, Ph.D


Neurobiology, Cellular and Tissue Pathophysiology of Neurological Diseases

Astrocytes are the most abundant glial cells and play many fundamental roles in the brain. Astrocytes can sense physiological and pathophysiological alterations in the microenvironment in the brain and make dynamic changes in key cellular processes to affect neurotransmitter homeostasis, synaptic plasticity, and brain metabolism. The Cai Lab aims to use various unique genetic mouse and cell models to investigate how astrocytes respond to physiological and pathophysiological insults in the brain, and the biological consequences of these responses. Unraveling the molecular basis of these astrocyte functions may help better understand the role of astrocytes in the progression of many neurological diseases, including major depression, neurodegenerative diseases, and stroke.

Primary investigator: Assistant Professor, Weikang Cai, Ph.D.


Molecular and Cellular Mechanisms of Pediatric Brain Tumors

Brain cancers are the most common solid tumors in children and the leading cause of death from childhood cancers. The Zhao Lab’s research goal is centered on identifying and developing novel therapies for treating pediatric brain cancer. We use animal models to provide valuable insights into this aggressive brain cancer and facilitate the development of potential drugs for treatment. We have developed multiple mouse models of brain tumor, driven by molecular defects commonly identified in human diseases. We aim to understand the biology and etiology of childhood brain cancers using these animal models.

Primary investigator: Associate Professor, Haotian Zhao, M.D., Ph.D


Subcellular Dysfunction in Heart Failure

Heart failure remains one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality worldwide. The Ojamaa Lab uses confocal and single-molecule microscopy to study changes in the transverse tubule networks and calcium channel proteins in cardiac muscle cells that lead to contractile dysfunction and poor cardiac performance in rodent models of heart failure. Therapeutic approaches, including manipulations of thyroid hormones that target these molecular processes are under investigation. .

Principal Investigator: Professor, Kaie Ojamaa, Ph.D.


Structure and Function of the Epithelial Cell Tight Junction

The tight junction is critical for the proper functioning of epithelial tissues and for organismal homeostasis. The Amsler Lab is using a range of molecular and cellular techniques to investigate how the tight junction proteins are organized into the macromolecular tight junction structure and how this organization is regulated under physiological and pathophysiological conditions. We are also identifying and studying compounds that can be used to enhance delivery of macromolecules via the tight junction pathways.

Principal Investigator: Dean of Research & Professor, Kurt Amsler, Ph.D.