Yongchao C. Ma, PhD

Basic and Preclinical Science
Neurobiology
Ma Laboratory
Pronouns: He, Him, His
Contact: ycma@luriechildrens.org

“All medical treatments ultimately come from basic research. To treat diseases of the central nervous system, we study the genetic, epigenetic, and mitochondrial regulation of neural development and neurodegeneration.”

Research Interests

  • Neurobiology

Biography

  • Children’s Research Fund Endowed Professorship in Neurobiology, Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago
  • Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Neurology, and Neuroscience, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

See Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine faculty profile.

See Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine laboratory profile.

Yongchao C. Ma, PhD, is an Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Neurology, and Neuroscience at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and holds the Children’s Research Fund Endowed Professorship in Neurobiology at Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago. Dr. Ma investigates the genetic, epigenetic, and cell biological mechanisms regulating neural development and neurodegeneration, in particular mechanisms related to RNA methylation and mitochondrial function.

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. Ma’s 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.

Education and Background

  • Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard Medical School 2008
  • PhD, Weil Medical College of Cornell University 2002

Research Highlights

REGULATION OF NEURAL STEM CELL DEVELOPMENT AND NEUROINFLAMMATION BY RNA METHYLATION 

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.

REGULATION OF MITOCHONDRIAL FUNCTION IN MOTOR NEURON DEGENERATION

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. 

Featured Grants

Regulation of Mitochondrial DNA Homeostasis and Neuroinflammation by Fascin

National Institutes of Health/National Institute on Aging
05/01/2022 → 04/30/2027

Regulation of Mitochondrial Function and Motor Neuron Degeneration

National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
09/01/2015 → 08/31/2023

Rescuing Motor Neuron Defects in SMA by Mitigating Aberrant Cdk5 Activation

National Institutes of Health/National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
05/01/2018 → 04/30/2022

Regulation of Spinal Motor Neuron Differentiation in Development and Disease

Searle Award

Similar Researchers

Basic and Preclinical Science

Youyang Zhao, PhD

Zhao Laboratory
Basic and Preclinical Science

Research Interests

Microbiome, Host-Microbial Interactions, Infectious Diseases, Molecular Pathogenesis

Recent Publication

Gut dysbiosis in cutaneous T-cell lymphoma is characterized by shifts in relative abundances of specific bacterial taxa and decreased diversity in more advanced disease.

Basic and Preclinical Science

Divakar S. Mithal, MD, PhD

Mithal (Divakar) Laboratory

Research Interests

Neuroscience, Mitochondrial Disease, Metabolism, Genetic, Neurocritical Care

Recent Publication

DEPDC5-dependent mTORC1 signaling mechanisms are critical for the anti-seizure effects of acute fasting.

Basic and Preclinical Science

Isabelle De Plaen, MD

Principal Investigator

De Plaen Laboratory

Research Interests

Cytokines, Digestive System (Including Gallbladder and Liver), Immunology, Necrotizing Enterocolitis, Neonatal Necrotizing Entercolitis

Recent Publication

Nailfold Capillaroscopy: A Promising, Noninvasive Approach to Predict Retinopathy of Prematurity.

Basic and Preclinical Science

Monica M. Laronda, PhD

Laronda Laboratory

Research Interests

Regenerative Medicine, Human Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells, Ovarian Biology, Gonadal Sex Determination, Sex Hormones, Fertility

Recent Publication

Workflow for Management of Gonadal Neoplasm in Two Patients with Differences of Sex Development Enrolled in an Experimental Gonadal Tissue Cryopreservation Protocol.

Basic and Preclinical Science

Brenda L. Bohnsack, MD, PhD

Principal Investigator

Bohnsack Laboratory

Research Interests

Congenital Eye Diseases, Neural Crest, Human Embryonic Stem Cells, Zebrafish

Recent Publication

Ophthalmological Manifestations of Axenfeld-Rieger Syndrome: Current Perspectives.