Ma Laboratory

The Ma Laboratory is interested in study the genetic and epigenetic mechanisms regulating neural development and neurodegeneration, in particular mechanisms related to RNA methylation and mitochondrial function. The team uses a combination of biochemical, cell biological, genetic, and sequencing approaches, and uses mice, neural stem cells, and zebrafish as model systems. 

Research Topics

Neural Development
RNA Methylation
Neural Stem Cell
Spinal Muscular Atrophy
Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
Fragile X


Yongchao C Ma  

Research Highlights


RNA methylation on N6-adenosine is emerging as a critical regulator of RNA functions and metabolism. Dr. Ma and his research team recently identified novel m6A RNA readers that interpret RNA methylation to regulate different aspects of RNA biology, including RNA localization, degradation and translation. They are exploring how RNA methylation regulates fundamental aspects of neural development and degeneration such as neurogenesis, neural stem cell differentiation, and neuroinflammation, and how dysregulation of these processes contributes to the pathogenesis of autism, ALS, and other neurological disorders. 


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. Dr. Ma and his research team are interested in studying mechanisms regulating motor neuron development and function, as well as why motor neurons specifically degenerate in SMA and ALS. To address these questions, Dr. Ma and the researchers use a combination of genetic, biochemical, and cell biological approaches, and utilize genetically modified mice, induced pluripotent stem cells reprogrammed from fibroblasts, and zebrafish as model systems. They focus on the regulation of mitochondrial functions in SMA and ALS pathogenesis. Based on their findings, Dr. Ma and the team hope to develop new therapeutic strategies for treating these diseases. 

Principal Investigator

Yongchao Ma, PhD

Yongchao C. Ma, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Neurology, and Neuroscience at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Dr. Ma also holds the Childrens Research Fund Endowed Professorship in Neurobiology at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. The Ma Laboratory is interested in studying the genetic, epigenetic, and cell biological mechanisms regulating neural development and neurodegeneration, in particular mechanisms related to RNA methylation and mitochondrial function. Findings in the Ma Laboratory are translated into new therapies for neurodevelopmental and degenerative disorders. The National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Aging, Chicago Biomedical Consortium, Cure SMA, Brian Research Foundation, and Schweppe Foundation have funded Dr. Mas research. Dr. Ma has been recognized by the Hartwell Individual Biomedical Research Award, the Searle Award, the Whitehall Scholar Award, William Randolph Hearst Fund Award, Vincent duVigneaud Award of Excellence, and Robert F. Pitts Prize of Distinguished Research.