Yao Chen, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Neurosciences Program
Molecular Cell Biology Program
Biochemistry, Biophysics, and Structural Biology Program
Molecular Genetics and Genomics Program

  • 314 273-7739

  • McDonnell Medical Sciences Building, Room 962/977

  • yaochen@wustl.edu

  • https://sites.wustl.edu/yaochenlab/

  • neuromodulator, sleep, dynamics, sensors, actuators, signaling, G protein coupled receptors, imaging, microscopy, learning, plasticity, engineering

  • Understanding the function of neuromodulators and sleep through the spatiotemporal dynamics of molecular signals

Research Abstract:

Neuromodulators are chemicals made in the brain that have powerful effects on animal behavior, regulating attention, learning, and emotions. As a result, almost all drugs treating psychiatric disorders target the neuromodulator systems. While specific behaviors have been linked to specific neuromodulators, and while many neuromodulator receptors and their downstream signaling pathways are known, how neuromodulators regulate behavior remains enigmatic.

The knowledge gap exists because our understanding of molecular signaling networks remains largely a static diagram of connections between molecules. Our laboratory attempts to fill the gap between molecular neuroscience and animal behavior by elucidating the spatial and temporal dynamics of biological signals, because their dynamics carry critical information that explain subsequent modifications of cells, circuits, and behavior.

Specifically, we aim to understand how the dynamics of neuromodulators and intracellular signals contribute to the function of neuromodulators, to learning, and to the function of sleep. We combine biosensor development, two photon fluorescence lifetime imaging microscopy, electrophysiology, behavior, as well as molecular, cellular, and systems approaches in mice to visualize the dynamics of molecular signals in action, perturb them with precise spatiotemporal control, and analyze the functional consequences. Our research promises to uncover principles of neuromodulator action, illuminate how molecular mechanisms produce behaviorally relevant features, and ultimately help treat psychiatric disorders.

Mentorship and Commitment to Diversity Statement:
I believe the highest achievement of a mentor is to empower, to inspire, and to nurture self-reflection, self-discovery, and self-expression. I strive to do so through mentoring in science.

We build our lab with 4 cornerstones.
1. Kindness and diversity: We value the physical and mental well being of ourselves and each other, and we will respect each other and be kind. We welcome and celebrate diversity: different experiences, perspectives, personalities, genders, beliefs, cultures, and different ways of solving problems.
2. Rigor: We value critical thinking and challenging questions to ourselves and to each other. We deliver these questions in the kindest way we know.
3. Creativity: We try to create a psychologically safe and fearless culture by encouraging lab members to freely ask questions and share half-baked ideas. We nurture the habits of careful observation and deep thinking.
4. Nurturing independence and resilience: I do so by encouraging self-reflection and self-awareness. I try to teach everybody how to fish rather than giving them the fish.

I practice the following to achieve our mentoring goals.
- We do science together.
- We reflect together.
- We grow together.
- We value heart work.

I will put in my heart and mind to grow into the best mentor I can be for you and invite you to grow with me in this adventure.

For an extended explanation of my mentoring philosophy, please click here

Selected Publications:

Chen Y*, Sabatini BL* (2021). The kinase specificity of protein kinase inhibitor peptide. Frontiers in Pharmacology. 12: 632815. *Co-corresponding authors.

Lee SJ, Lodder B, Chen Y, Patriarchi T, Tian L, Sabatini BL (2021). Cell-type-specific asynchronous modulation of PKA by dopamine in learning. Nature. 590: 451

Chen Y, Granger AJ, Tran T, Saulnier JL, Kirkwood A, Sabatini BL (2017). Endogenous Gαq-coupled neuromodulator receptors activate protein kinase A. Neuron 96: 1070

Chen Y, Saulnier JL, Yellen G, Sabatini BL (2014). A PKA activity sensor for quantitative analysis of
endogenous GPCR signaling via 2-photon FRET-FLIM imaging. Frontiers in Pharmacology 5: 56

Chen Y, Mohammadi M, Flanagan JG (2009). Graded levels of FGF protein span the midbrain and can
instruct graded induction and repression of neural mapping labels. Neuron 62: 773-780.

See a complete list of publications here: https://sites.wustl.edu/yaochenlab/publications/.

Last Updated: 11/12/2021 4:00:11 PM

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