Dopaminergic neurons located at the ventral midbrain control movement, mood and motivation. Dysfunction of dopaminergic neurons is implicated in Parkinson’s disease, drug addiction, depression and schizophrenia. Generating dopaminergic neurons from stem cells offers a remarkable opportunity to replace sick or dead neurons in patients, to study disease onset and progression, and to perform drug screening. However, realizing this opportunity requires understanding the mechanisms that regulate dopaminergic neuron fate specification. Dr. Ma will use his 2012 Seed Grant to use Neurogenin 2, a transcription factor protein that controls gene expression, as an entry point to study how the environment surrounding neural stem cells can affect their fate specification by modifying the activities of transcription factors. It is his hope that the proposed research will not only provide novel insights into how to differentiate dopaminergic neurons from neural stem cells, but also lead to new opportunities for treating Parkinson’s disease and other brain disorders.
Yong-Chao Ma, Ph.D.