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Dr. Mei Zhen

Research Institute
Mount Sinai Hospital
Joseph & Wolf Lebovic Health Complex
600 University Avenue
Toronto Ontario
M5G 1X5

Tel.: 416-586-4800 ext.1592

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Dr. Mei Zhen


When neurons form synapses to communicate with each other, the wiring for our sensory, motor, and cognitive experience is formed. Dr. Mei Zhen is studying how synapses form in the nervous system, the wiring of the brain that makes us who we are. Her goal is a breakthrough in understanding brain development, synapse formation, and how to treat the brain when it is diseased or damaged.

Dr. Zhen's research has implications for a vast range of diseases including psychiatric disorders like schizophrenia, depression and bi-polar disorder, neurodegenerative diseases like ALS, and genetic disorders related to development of the nervous system. To date, the biochemical mechanisms responsible for synapse formation are still not well understood, in large part because of the size and complexity of the nervous system. In order to study synapse formation Dr. Zhen uses an innovative research model, a small roundworm called C. elegans that has fewer than ten thousand synapses compared to the estimated 1014 to 1015  (that's a quadrillion) synapses in the adult human brain.

Dr. Zhen has shown that, in spite of the vast difference in complexity, the human and C. elegans are likely to use similar sets of genes to make synapses. Her innovative approach has provided much more information than earlier methods of studying synapses, which called for a labour-intensive preparation of animal samples to be studied with an electron microscope.

Dr. Zhen's lab is at the forefront of building a knowledge base of the human brain in health and disease, an important tool for the field of neurobiology.

At a Glance

Investigates development of synapses in the central nervous system

Holds the Lawrence and Judy Tanenbaum Research Chair in Developmental Neuroscience

Uses a small worm called C. elegans to study genes responsible for psychiatric disorders

Identified a number of new genes involved in the development of synapses (the connections between neurons) and found a channel molecule that may lead to the development of new and effective drugs for mental illnesses

Major Research Activities

Dr. Zhen's laboratory investigates how neurons establish synaptic connectivitites during development. The focus is on dissecting the molecular compoents of syd-2 and sad-1 signaling pathways using C. elegans as a model system. The lab has developed a number of fluorescent GFP/YFP/CFP markers which allows direct visualization of different synaptic structures in live C. elegans.