Yun Zhang

Associate Professor of Biology

Phone: 617-495-1107
Office: NW 357.10, 52 Oxford Street

We are interested in understanding how the structure and function of neural circuits regulate experience-dependent behavioral plasticity, particularly olfactory learning. One way to address this question is to elucidate evolutionarily conserved features in the fundamental underlying mechanisms. For this purpose, I exploit Caenorhabditis elegans, because its nervous system is small and well-characterized and because it is accessible to genetic, molecular and imaging methods.

Our research has primarily focused on olfactory plasticity. In the past few years, our work has yielded new knowledge about the function of the underlying neural circuits. We have mapped a neuronal network that encodes both the naive and learned olfactory preferences. Intriguingly, we have recently identified and characterized compartmentalized activity in the key neuron of the learning circuit that resembles corollary discharge, a major means that the nervous system uses to monitor self-generated motion. We have also characterized circuit function of a set of neuromodulators that regulate learning through ligand-receptor interactions.

Job Openings

1. The Zhang lab is accepting applications for postdoctoral positions. The candidates with a background in neuroscience or molecular genetics who may be interested in joining our team should contact Dr. Yun Zhang via email.

2. The Zhang lab also has positions for graduate students who are interested in studying the function and development of neural circuits underlying behaviors. Please send your inquiry to Dr. Yun Zhang via email.

Recent Publications

Fernandes de Abreu, D.A., Caballero, A., Fardel, P., Stroustrup, N., Chen, Z., et al., Antebi, A.*, Blanc, E.*, Apfeld, J.*, Zhang, Y.*, Alcedo, J*. and Ch’ng, Q.L*. An insulin-to-insulin regulatory network orchestrates phenotypic specificity in development and physiology. PLoS Genetics, in press (2014). ). *: co-corresponding author.

Luo, L.*, Cook, N., Venkatachalam, V., Martinez-Velazquez, L.A., Zhang, X., Calvo, A.C., Hawk, J., MacInnis, B.L., Frank, M., Jia, R.H., Klein, M., Gershow, M., Hammarlund, M., Goodman, M.*, Colón-Ramos, D.A.*, Zhang, Y.* and Samuel, A.D.T.* Bidirectional thermotaxis in C. elegans is mediated by distinct sensorimotor strategies driven by the AFD thermosensory neurons. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 111(7): 2776-81 (2014). (2014). *: co-corresponding author.

Bahrami, A. and Zhang, Y. When females produce sperm: genetics of C. elegans hermaphrodite reproductive choice. Genes, Genomes, Genetics 3(10):1851-1859 (2013).

Hendricks, M. and Zhang, Y. Complex RIA calcium dynamics and its function in navigational behavior. Worm 2(3): e25546 (2013).

Chen, Z., Hendricks, M., Maier, W., Cornils, A., Alcedo, J. and Zhang, Y. Two insulin-like peptides antagonistically regulate aversive olfactory learning. Neuron, 77, 572-585 (2013).

Qin, Y., Zhang, X. and Zhang, Y. A neuronal circuit of C. elegans CaMKII regulates serotonergic modulatory signaling for aversive olfactory learning. Journal of Neuroscience, 33(3): 925-35 (2013).

Lee, H., Zhang, Y. and Lu, H. Quantitative screening of genes regulating tryptophan hydroxylase transcription in C. elegans using microfluidics and adaptive algorithm. Integrative Biology, 5(2):372-80 (2013).

Zhang, X. and Zhang, Y. A TGF-β, DBL-1, is essential for aversive olfactory learning. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 109(42):17081-6 (2012).

Alcedo, J. and Zhang, Y. Molecular and cellular circuits underlying C. elegans olfactory plasticity. Invertebrate learning and memory, edited by Randolf Menzel and Paul Benjamin, in press (2012).

Hendricks, M., Ha, H., Maffey, N. and Zhang, Y. Compartmentalized calcium dynamics in a C. elegans interneuron encode head movement. Nature, 487, 99–103 (2012).

Cornils, A., Gloeck, M., Chen, Z., Zhang, Y. and Alcedo, J. Specific insulin-like peptides encode sensory information to regulate distinct developmental processes. Development 138(6):1183-93 (2011).

Ha, H., Hendricks, M., Shen, Y., Gabel, C., Fang-Yen, C. M., Qin, Y., Colón-Ramos, D., Shen, K., Samuel, A.D.T. and Zhang, Y. Functional organization of a neural network that regulates aversive olfactory learning in Caenorhabditis elegans. Neuron 68, 1173-1186 (2010). Selected as the only featured article of the issue.

Zhang, X. and Zhang, Y. Neural-immune communication in Caenorhabditis elegans. Cell Host & Microbe 5(5): 425-9 (2009).

Zhang, Y. Neural mechanisms of Caenorhabditis elegans and pathogenic bacteria interactions. Current Opinion in Microbiology 11, 257-261 (2008).

Luo, L., Gabel, C. L., Ha, H., Zhang, Y. and Samuel, A.D.T. Olfactory behavior of swimming C. elegans analyzed by measuring motile responses to temporal variations of odorants. J. Neurophysiology 99, 2617-2625 (2008).

Pradel, E.*, Zhang, Y.*, Pujol, N., Matsuyama, T., Bargmann, C. I. and Ewbank, J. J. Detection and avoidance of a natural product from the pathogenic bacterium Serratia marcescens by Caenorhabditis elegans. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 104, 2295-2300 (2007). *: Equal contributions.

Zhang, Y., Lu, H. and Bargmann, C. I. Pathogenic bacteria induce aversive olfactory learning in C. elegans. Nature 438, 179-184 (2005). Rated by Faculty 1000 as “Must read”.

Zhang, Y., Ma, C., Delohery, T., Nasipak, B., Foat, B. C., Bounoutas, A., Bussemaker, H. J., Kim, S. K. and Chalfie, M. Identification of genes expressed in C. elegans touch receptor neurons. Nature 418, 331-335 (2002).

Zhang, Y. and Chalfie, M. MTD-1, a touch-cell-specific membrane protein with a subtle effect on touch sensitivity. Mechanisms of Development 119, 3-7 (2002).

Courses Taught

Neurobiology 95a: Can We Learn About How We Learn? - Learning and Memory

OEB 145: Genes and Behavior

OEB 223: Topics in Neurogenetics

OEB 369: Molecular Genetics of Neuroscience


Honors and Awards

American Heart Association Postdoctoral Research Award

F. M. Kirby Postdoctoral Fellowships in Sensory Neuroscience

Klingenstein Fellowship Awards in the Neurosciences

Capranica Neuroethology Prize (one of the two recipients nationwide)

March of Dimes Basil O'Connor Starter Scholar Research Award

Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellowship

John Merck Scholars Program Award (one of the two recipients nationwide)


Lab Members

Adam Bahrami <adambahrami at yahoo dot com>
Michael Hendricks <s dot Michael dot Hendricks at gmail dot com>
Gareth Harris <gazalad2 at Hotmail dot com>

Graduate Students:
Xiaodong Zhang (MCB) <zxdangela at gmail dot com>
Yuqi Qin (OEB) <yqqinzju at gmail dot com>
Zhunan Chen (OEB) <zchen at oeb dot Harvard dot edu>
Yu Shen (OEB) <shenyupku at gmail dot com>
Jingyi Yu (OEB) <jingyiyu at fas dot harvard dot edu>

Staff Members:
Shane Smith, Technician, <shanesmith at fas dot Harvard dot edu>
Shuli Bigelow, Faculty Assistant, <sbigelow at oeb dot Harvard dot edu>


Lab Photos

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lab pic

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