Ma Lab - Neuron function

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.
Phone: 312.503.7338

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

  • Brittany Edens, Graduate Student
  • Saravanan Arumugam, Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Taige Hong, Northwestern University Undergraduate Student
  • Jing Su, MD, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow
  • Zhaofa Xu, Postdoctoral Fellow


List of publications indexed in PubMed by the Ma Laboratory

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

Yongchao Ma Lurie Children's profile

Yongchao Ma Northwestern University profile

Ma laboratory - Northwestern University