James Zheng, Ph.D.
Principal Investigator

The strong desire to understand brain development and disorders drives the research in the Zheng laboratory at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia, USA. We currently study the cell biology of:
  Axon development and brain wring,
  Synapse formation and plasticity,
  Brain injury and degeneration.

James Zheng, PhD

Molecular and Cellular Mechanisms underlying
Brain Development and Degeneration

Axon development and brain wiring. Directed cell motility is fundamental for many developmental events including neural development, and it underlies many pathological events such as cancer-cell metastasis. We investigate directed cell motility in nerve cells, aiming to understand how developing axons extend and navigate to reach their specific target cells to form synaptic connections. We focus on the spatiotemporal signaling and cytoskeletal events that enable the motile tip of developing axons, the growth cone, to respond to environmental cues to reach their specific targets.

  • Li et al (2022): Signal amplification in growth cone gradient sensing by a double negative feed backloop among PTEN, PI(3,4,5)3, and actomyosin. Mol Cell Neurosci. DOI:10.1016/j.mcn.2022.103772.
  • Pollitt et al (2020): LIM and SH3 protein 1 localizes to the leading edge of protruding lamellipodia and regulates axon development. Mol Biol Cell. DOI:10.1091/mbc.E20-06-0366.
  • Lee et al (2013): Dynamic localization of G-actin during membrane protrusion in neuronal motility. Curr Biol. DOI:10.1016/j.cub.2013.04.057.

Synapse formation and plasticity. Synapses represent the basic unit of neuronal communications and are composed of paired pre- and post-synaptic terminals. Synapses are plastic and undergo short- and long-term modifications during development, as well as during learning and memory. We investigate the cytoskeletal regulation of synaptic structure, function, modification, and disruption.

  • Myers et al (2022): Actin capping protein regulates postsynaptic spine development through CPI-motif interactions. Front Mol Neurosci. DOI: 10.3389/fnmol.2022.1020949.
  • Omotade et al (2018): Tropomodulin Isoform-Specific Regulation of Dendrite Development and Synapse Formation. J Neurosci. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3325-17.2018.
  • Lei et al (2017): Phosphoinositide-dependent enrichment of actin monomers in dendritic spines regulates synapse development and plasticity. J Cell Biol. DOI: 10.1083/jcb.201612042.

Brain injury and neurodegeneration. Neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Parkinson disease (PD), Huntington’s disease (HD), and Frontotemporal lobar dementia (FTD), involve progressive disruption of brain function and subsequent neuronal loss that are more prevalent in aged populations. Physical insults to the head, even those mild ones, can set in motion latent pathologic processes that later emerge to cause neurodegenerative conditions. We use a novel Drosophila mild head injury model to investigate how early exposure to mild head trauma can lead to long-term deficits and brain degeneration. This research program employes innovative approaches, inclding  AI-empowered quantitative analyses, to interogate the mechanisms underlying the sex difference and age dependence in neurodegeneration.

  • Behnke et al (2021): Repetitive Mild Head Trauma Induces Activity Mediated Lifelong Brain Deficits in a Novel Drosophila Model. Scientific Reports. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-89121-7.
  • Behnke et al (2021): A protocol to detect neurodegeneration in Drosophila melanogaster whole-brain mounts using advanced microscopy. STAR protocols. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-021-89121-7.

Meet the team!

Science is the belief in the ignorance of the experts - Richard Feyman.

Dr. Myers

Dr. Ken Myers

Dr. Myers is an assistant professor in the Department of Cell Biology, Emory University. He is a major collaborator of our research team. Click the button below to go to his faculty profile page.

Changtian (Sherry) Ye

Sherry is a graduate student in Emory Neuroscience Program. She investigates the sex- and age-dependent late-life emergence of neurodegeneration after mild head trauma in Drosophila.

Katherine Hardin

Kate is a graduate student in Emory Biochemistry, Cell & Developmental Biology Graduate Program. She currently investigates the actin bundling protein Fascin in brain development.

Shuristeen Joubert

Shuristeen is a graduate student in Emory Biochemistry, Cell & Developmental Biology Graduate Program. She currently investigates the actin mechanism underlying synapse development.

Evan Bian, EmoryU

Eric Qian, EmoryU

Ryan Ho, EmoryU

Arjolyn Penas, EmoryU

Munushri Dalvi, EmoryU

Interested in joining the team?

  We are seeking a postdoc to join us at Emory in beautiful Atlanta, Georgia to study the actin cell biology underlying the postsynaptic structure and function. Background in neuroscience and/or cell biology is required. Experience in imaging, cytoskeleton, and stereotactic viral injection is a plus.
  A lab technician/research specialist position is available for molecualr cloning and biochemical studies of protein-protein interaction in neurons.
  We are open for graduate student rotation and undergraduate research.

If interested, please send curriculum vitae to Dr. James Zheng