Ma, Yong-Chao, PhD

Current Research

Current Research

Regulation of Motor Neuron and Dopaminergic Neuron Function in Development and Disease
Postdoctoral fellow jobs and graduate student rotation projects are available.

Spinal Motor Neurons and Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA)
SMA is characterized by the selective degeneration of spinal motor neurons. As the leading genetic cause of infant mortality, SMA affects one in every eight thousand live births. Our group is interested in studying mechanism regulating motor neuron development and function, as well as why motor neurons specifically degenerate in SMA. 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 pathogenesis. Based on our findings, we hope to develop new therapeutic strategies for treating SMA.

Dopaminergic Neurons and 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.

Selected Publications

Selected Publications

1. 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)
2. Nouri N, Patel MJ, Joksimovic M, Poulin JF, Anderegg A, Taketo MM, Ma YC, and Awatramani R. 2015. Excessive Wnt/beta-catenin signaling promotes midbrain floor plate neurogenesis, but results in vacillating dopamine progenitors. Molecular and Cellular Neuroscience, 68:131-142. (PMID: 26164566)
3. Edens BM, Ajoud-Driss S, Ma L, Ma YC. 2014. Molecular mechanisms and animal models of spinal muscular atrophy. Biochemica Biophysica Acta, pii: S0925-4439(14)00244-0. (PMID: 25088406)
4. 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)
5. Gray JM, Harmin DA, Boswell SA, Cloonan N, Mullen TE, Ling JJ, Miller N, Kuersten S, Ma YC, McCarroll SA, Grimmond SM, Springer, M. 2014. SnapShot-Seq: a method for extracting genome-wide, in vivo mRNA dynamics from a single total RNA sample. PLoS ONE, 9(2): e89673. (PMID: 24586954, PMC3935918)
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. GSK3β temporally regulates Neurogenin 2 proneural activity in the neocortex. Journal of Neuroscience, 32(23):7791-805. (PMID: 22674256)
7. Yang B, Geary LB, and Ma YC. 2011. In ovo Electroporation in Chick Midbrain for Studying Gene Function in Dopaminergic Neuron Development. Journal of Visualized Experiments, (66): e4017. doi: 10.3791/4017. (PMID: 22895156)
8. 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)
9. 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)
10. 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)
11. Zheng B*, Ma YC*, Ostrom RS, Insel PA, Huang XY, Farquhar MG. 2001. RGS-PX1, a GAP for Gas and sorting nexin in vesicular trafficking. Science, 294:1939-42. (*Equal contribution) (PMID: 11729322)
12. 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)



Ma, Yong-Chao, PhD


Assistant Professor


Office Phone



Pediatrics, Neurology, Physiology


2430 North Halsted Street, Room C321L


NOW accepting rotation students

Accepting rotation students

Areas of Research

Cell Biology, Molecular Neuroscience, Motor Control, Neurobiology of Disease, Signal Transduction

NU Scholar Profile

Recent Publications on PubMed