Neural stem cells
Our laboratory studies the molecular mechanisms underlying the self-renewal and differentiation of neural stem cells, which form the billions of neurons and supporting cells that make up the human nervous system. Mishaps in this process during development can cause neurological diseases.
Particularly, we are interested in Wnt signaling in neural stem cells. We focus our efforts on Ryk, a Wnt receptor that plays important roles in stem cell renewal and differentiation. Using Ryk siRNA transgenic mice and Ryk knockout mice, we have found that Ryk is required for axon guidance, neurite outgrowth and neural stem cell differentiation.
Our current research focuses on Ryk’s role in controlling the balance of symmetric and asymmetric cell division in neural stem cells. Using molecular, genetic and biochemical approaches in Ryk knockout mice as well as in neural stem cell culture, we seek to identify the many components of the Ryk-mediated Wnt signal transduction pathway.
Somatic cell reprogramming
Another line of research in the lab is to study human and mouse somatic cell reprogramming. We study how neural stem cells and other somatic cells can be “rewound” into an embryo-like state to form induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells. They have great potential for cell replacement therapy for degenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Huntington’s and many others.
We are particularly interested in how cell signaling interacts with intrinsic transcription factors to re-establish pluripotency.
In addition, we are pursuing the use of disease-specific iPS cells to study human neurological diseases and to accelerate drug discovery.