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Molecular Mechanism Underlying Intrinsic and Activity-Dependent
Dendrite Development and Neural Circuit Formation

Xiang Yu

Institute of Neuroscience
Chinese Academy of Sciences


Over a century ago, the Spanish neuroscientist Ramon y Cajal illustrated the beauty, complexity and diversity of neuronal dendritic morphology through his elegant and meticulous drawings. In recent years, a combination of molecular, genetic, pharmacological and imaging approaches has significantly advanced our understanding of the molecular mechanisms underlying dendrite morphogenesis. Yet, many questions remain unanswered. For example, what factors determine the morphology of a pyramidal neuron and differentiate it from a Purkinje cell or a granule cell? To what extent do genetic (intrinsic) and extracellular (extrinsic, activity-dependent) factors contribute to regulation of dendritic morphogenesis? How does the refinement of dendritic structures contribute to neuronal function? In previous work, we identified the cadherin/catenin cell adhesion complex as an important mediator of activity-dependent dendrite development. We further showed that N-cadherin, through its extracellular interaction, is specifically required for the maintenance of newly formed dendritic arbors. In ongoing work, we are studying the in vivo role of cell adhesion molecules in regulating dendritic morphology, as well as their effect on neural circuit formation. We are also interested in the mechanism underlying intrinsic determination of dendrite morphology, and the patterning of different neuronal types with distinct dendrite morphologies.

Short Bio

Dr. Xiang Yu graduated from Trinity College at the University of Cambridge in 1995 and completed her Ph.D in Drosophila embryonic development at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge in 1999. As a post-doctoral fellow at Stanford University she identified the cadherin/catenin complex as a critical mediator of dendritic morphogenesis and showed that Wnt/β-catenin signaling is likely to be important during activity-dependent dendritic development. In 2005, she joined ION as Principle Investigator and head of the “Laboratory of Dendrite Development and Neural Circuit Formation”. Her laboratory is interested in understanding the molecular mechanism underlying intrinsic and extrinsic dendritic development, as well as the morphological trace underlying activity-dependent neural circuit formation. She is recipient of the Wellcome Trust Internatioal Fellowship (1999), the Grass Fellowship at the Marine Biological Laboratory (2005), the Hundred Talent Program of the Chinese Academy of Science (2005), the Shanghai Pujiang Program (2006) and the Talented Young Investigator Award of the National Science Foundation of China (2011). She published papers as corresponding authors in journals including Nature Neuroscience, Neuron, P.N.A.S and the Journal of Neuroscience and serves as an editorial board member of Neuropharmacology.

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Last updated: January 19, 2013