The Zhang lab is interested in the fundamental mechanisms of brain development with the ultimate goal of diagnosing and treating neurological disorders. Our current research integrates molecular and genetic approaches, and centers on the following directions:
- Tracing cell lineages in mammalian brains. All cells in the human brain (~86 billions) originate from a single fertilized egg cell. Diverse neuronal cell types have been identified in adult mouse and human brains, but the molecular mechanisms determining the genesis of neuronal cell diversity and the lineage between cell types remain largely unclear. We are interested in understanding cell lineages in normal and diseased brains.
- RNA splicing diversity and neural development. Alternative RNA splicing creates remarkable molecular diversity and in extreme cases enables a single gene to generate hundreds of different protein isoforms such that Neurexin isoforms create enormous synaptic diversity. What are the roles of alternative mRNA splicing in neurogenesis and neuronal differentiation? Recent works from us and others start to uncover cell type-specific functions of splicing isoforms and master regulators in brain development and diseases.
At the University of Chicago, we are privileged to be part of the intellectually stimulating community. Our team collaborates closely with labs within the Department of Human Genetics which has unusual strength in population genetics, comparative and functional genomics, large scale genetic testing, and computational biology. We also share strong interests with peer labs in neuroscience, developmental and stem cell biology, and systems and single cell biology.