Ma Laboratory

The Ma laboratory investigates the regulation of motor neuron and dopaminergic neuron function in development and disease.

Postdoctoral Fellow jobs and Graduate Student rotation projects are available.  Please contact Yongchao C. Ma, PhD for details.

Current Research Projects

Spinal Motor Neuron Development, Function and Degeneration in SMA and ALS

As the leading genetic cause of infant mortality, spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) affects one in every eight thousand live births. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) or Lou Gehrig's disease is the most common motor neuron disease in adults. Both SMA and ALS are characterized by the selective degeneration of spinal motor neurons. Our group is interested in studying mechanism regulating motor neuron development and function, as well as why motor neurons specifically degenerate in SMA and ALS. To address these questions, we use a combination of genetic, biochemical and cell biological approaches, and utilize genetically modified mice, induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells reprogrammed from fibroblasts, and zebrafish as model systems. We focus on the regulation of mitochondrial functions in SMA and ALS pathogenesis. Based on our findings, we hope to develop new therapeutic strategies for treating these diseases.

Dopaminergic Function and Degeneration in Parkinson's Disease

Dopaminergic neurons located in the ventral midbrain control movement, emotional behavior and reward mechanisms. Dysfunction of these neurons is implicated in Parkinson’s disease, drug addiction, depression and schizophrenia. Our group is interested in the genetic and epigenetic mechanisms regulating dopaminergic neuron functions in disease and aging conditions. We are particularly interested in how aging and mitochondrial oxidative stress contribute to dopaminergic neuron degeneration in Parkinson's disease through transcriptional and epigenetic regulations. We use mouse models, cultured neurons and iPS cells for these studies.

Laboratory Members

  • Nimrod Miller, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Han Shi, Graduate Student
  • Brittany Edens, Graduate Student
  • Saravanan Arumugam, Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Qiang Cai, Visiting Scholar
  • Taige Hong, Northwestern University Undergraduate Student

Selected Publications

List of pub​lications indexed in PubMed​​ by ​the Ma Laboratory

  1. Ma YC, Huang J, Ali S, Lowry W, Huang XY. 2000. Src tyrosine kinase is a novel direct effector of G proteins. Cell, 102: 635-646. (PMID: 11007482)
  2. Zheng B*, Ma YC*, Ostrom RS, Insel PA, Huang XY, Farquhar MG. 2001. RGS-PX1, a GAP for GalphaS and sorting nexin in vesicular trafficking. Science, 294:1939-42. (*Equal contribution) (PMID: 11729322). Science Perspectives on this paper: Zastrow MV, Mostov K. 2001. A new thread in an intricate web. Science, 294:1845-47 (PMID: 11729293)
  3. Lowry WE, Huang J, Ma YC, Ali S, Wang D, Williams DM, Okada M, Cole PA,Huang XY. 2002. Csk, a critical link of protein signals to actin cytoskeletal reorganization. Developmental Cell, 2(6): 733-44. (PMID: 12062086)
  4. Datta SR, Ranger AM, Lin MZ, Sturgill JF, Ma YC, Cowan CW, Dikkes P, Korsmeyer SJ, Greenberg ME. 2002. Survival factor-mediated BAD phosphorylation raises the mitochondrial threshold for apoptosis. Developmental Cell, 3(5): 631-43. (PMID: 12431371)
  5. Ma YC, Song MR, Park JP, Ho HH, Hu L, Kurtev M, Zieg J, Ma Q, Pfaff SL,Greenberg ME. 2008. Regulation of motor neuron specification by GSK3-mediated phosphorylation of Neurogenin 2. Neuron, 58:65-77. (PMID: 18400164). Neuron Previews on this paper: Lai HC, Johnson JE. 2008. Neurogenesis or Neuronal Specification: Phosphorylation Strikes Again! Neuron, 58:3-5. (PMID: 18400155)
  6. Li S, Mattar P, Zinyk D, Singh K, Chaturvedi CP, Kovach C, Kurrasch DM, Ma YC, Chan JA, Wallace V, Dilworth J, Brand M, Schuurmans C. 2012. GSK3beta temporally regulates Neurogenin 2 proneural activity in the neocortex. Journal of Neuroscience, 32(23):7791-805. (PMID: 22674256)
  7. Gao X, Teng Y, Luo J, Huang L, Li M, Zhang Z, Ma YC, Ma L. 2014. The survival motor neuron gene smn-1 interacts with the U2AF large subunit gene uaf-1 to regulate Caenorhabditis elegans lifespan and motor functions. RNA Biology, 11(9):1148-60. (PMID: 25483032)
  8. Edens BM, Ajoud-Driss S, Ma L, Ma YC. 2014. Molecular mechanisms and animal models of spinal muscular atrophy. Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, pii: S0925-4439(14)00244-0. (PMID: 25088406)
  9. Nouri N, Patel MJ, Joksimovic M, Poulin JF, Anderegg A, Taketo MM, Ma YC, Awatramani R. 2015. Excessive Wnt/beta-catenin signaling promotes midbrain floor plate neurogenesis, but results in vacillating dopamine progenitors. Molecular and Cellular Neurosciences, 68:131-142. doi: 10.1016/j.mcn.2015.07.002. (PMID: 26164566)
  10. Miller N, Feng Z, Edens BM, Yang B, Shi H, Sze CC, Hong BT, Su SC, Cantu JA, Topczewski J, Crawford TO, Ko CP, Sumner CJ, Ma L, Ma YC. 2015. Non-aggregating tau phosphorylation by cyclin-dependent kinase 5 contributes to motor neuron degeneration in spinal muscular atrophy. Journal of Neuroscience, 35(15):6038-50. (PMID: 25878277) (Cover Article)
  11. Edens BM, Miller N, Ma YC. 2016. Impaired Autophagy and Defective Mitochondrial Function: Converging Paths on the Road to Motor Neuron Degeneration. Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, 10:44. doi: 10.3389/fncel.2016.00044. (PMID: 26973461)
  12. Deng HX, Shi Y, Yang Y, Ahmeti KB, Miller N, Huang C, Cheng L, Zhai H, Deng S, Nuytemans K, Corbett NJ, Kim MJ, Deng H, Tang B, Yang Z, Xu Y, Chan P, Huang B, Gao XP, Song Z, Liu Z, Fecto F, Siddique N, Foroud T, Jankovic J, Ghetti B, Nicholson DA, Krainc D, Melen O, Vance JM, Pericak-Vance MA, Ma YC, Rajput AH, Siddique T. 2016. Identification of TMEM230 mutations in familial Parkinson's disease. Nature Genetics, 48(7):733-9. doi: 10.1038/ng.3589. (PMID: 27270108)
  13. Shi H, Deng HX, Gius D, Schumacker PT, Surmeier DJ, Ma YC. 2017. Sirt3 protects dopaminergic neurons from mitochondrial oxidative stress. Human Molecular Genetics, 15; 26(10): 1915-1926. doi:10.1093/hmg/ddx100. (PMID: 27488123)
  14. Miller N, Shi H, Zelikovich AS, Ma YC. 2016. Motor Neuron Mitochondrial Dysfunction in Spinal Muscular Atrophy. Human Molecular Genetics, 15;25(16):3395-3406. doi:10.1093/hmg/ddw262. Epub 2016 Aug 3. (PMID: 27488123). Nature Reviews Neurology Research Highlight on this article: Malkki H. 2016. Mitochondrial dysfunction could precipitate motor neuron loss in spinal muscular atrophy. Nature Reviews Neurology, 12(10):556. (PMID: 27562548)
  15. Edens B, Yan J, Deng HX, Siddique T, Ma YC. 2017. A novel ALS-associated variant in UBQLN4 regulates motor axon morphogenesis. eLIFE, pii: e25453. doi: 10.7554/eLife.25453. (PMID: 28463112)​

Funding Agencies

  • National Institutes of Health (NIH)/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS)
  • NIH/National Institute on Aging (NIA)
  • The Hartwell Foundation
  • The Whitehall Foundation
  • Searle Leadership Fund in the Life Sciences
  • Brain Research Foundation
  • Chicago Biomedical Consortium
  • Cure SMA​

Ma Lab in the News

Contact Information

Phone: 773.755.6390