Graduate Studies Faculty

Wei-Dong Yao, PhD

Wei-Dong Yao, PhD
Appointed 10/01/14
4712 Institute For Human Performance (IHP)
505 Irving Ave.
Syracuse, NY 13210

315 464-3194

Current Appointments

Hospital Campus

Research Programs and Affiliations

  • Biomedical Sciences Program
  • Neuroscience Program
  • Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Education & Fellowships

  • Fellowship: Duke University, 2004, Neurobiology
  • PhD: University of Iowa, 1998, Biological Sciences/Neurobiology
  • BS: Tsinghua University, China, 1988, Physics

Previous Appointments

  • Harvard Medical School, 2004–2014

Research Interests

  • Synaptic modulation and plasticity in prefrontal circuitry; molecular mechanisms of synapse formation, maturation, and stabilization; neurobiological basis of prefrontal-related mental and brain diseases.


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Dr. Yao is Director of the Molecular Cellular Neuropsychiatry Laboratory at SUNY Upstate. The mission of the Lab is to find out how psychiatric diseases damage brain cells and their proper wiring, and how these impairments cause mental illnesses. Our hypothesis is that impaired assembly, function, and plasticity of synapses (small junctions that permit nerve cells to pass an electrical or chemical signal from one to another) and neural circuits underlie cognitive, memory, and emotional deficits of essentially all neuropsychiatric diseases. We are investigating this hypothesis using a number of state-of-the-art molecular, cellular, and electrophysiological technologies on genetically engineered mouse models and induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS cells) derived from human patients. Our major interests are addiction, schizophrenia, autism, and primarily prefrontal cortex related brain and mental diseases. Our previous work done at Harvard Medical School has identified new brain signaling pathways that regulate synapse formation and stabilization and neural circuit rewiring that provide fundamental breakthroughs about the pathogenesis of these diseases. At SUNY Upstate we will continue our cutting-edge research, and the knowledge obtained will be an prerequisite for development of more effective treatment strategies for these diseases.

Selected Publications:

Ma Q, Ruan H, Peng L, Zhang M, Gack MU, Yao WD. (2017)Proteasome-independent polyubiquitin linkage regulates synapse scaffolding, efficacy, and plasticity.Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A;2017 Sep 25. [Epub ahead of print].

Vallender EJ, Goswami DB, Shinday NM, Westmoreland SV, Yao WD*, Rowlett JK*. (2017) Transcriptomic Profiling of the Ventral Tegmental Area and Nucleus Accumbens in Rhesus Macaques Following Long-Term Cocaine Self-Administration. Drug Alcohol Dependence. In press. (*Co-senior authors).

Ruan H, Yao WD. (2016) Cocaine Promotes Coincidence Detection and Lowers Induction Threshold during Hebbian Associative Synaptic Potentiation in Prefrontal Cortex. J Neurosci. 2016 Dec 16. pii: 2257-16.

Saur T, Cohen BM, Ma Q, Babb SM, Buttner EA, Yao WD. (2016) Acute and Chronic Effects of Clozapine on Cholinergic Transmission in Cultured Mouse Superior Cervical Ganglion Neurons. J Neurogenet. 30:297-305.

Shen EY, Jiang Y, Javidfar B,, Kassim B, Loh E, Ma Q, Mitchell AC, Pothula V, Stewart AF, Ernst P, Yao WD, Martin G, Shen L, Jakovcevski M, Akbarian S. (2016) Neuronal deletion of Kmt2a/Mll1 Histone Methyltransferase in Ventral Striatum is Associated with Defective Spike-Timing Dependent Striatal Synaptic Plasticity, Altered Response to Dopaminergic Drugs and Increased Anxiety. Neuropsychopharmacology. 41:3103-13.

Hou Q, Ruan H, Gilbert J, Wang G, Ma Q, Yao WD, Man HY. (2015) MicroRNA miR124 is required for the expression of homeostatic synaptic plasticity. Nat Commun. 2015 Dec 1;6:10045. doi: 10.1038/ncomms10045.

Jakovcevski M, Ruan H, Shen EY, Dincer A, Javidfar B, Ma Q, Peter CJ, Cheung I, Mitchell AC, Jiang Y, Pothula V, Stewart F, Ernst P, Yao WD*, Akbarian S*. (2015) Neuronal kmt2a/mll1 histone methyltransferase is essential for prefrontal synaptic plasticity and working memory. J Neurosci, 35:5097-108. (*Co-corresponding authors).

Gascon E, Lynch K, Ruan H, Verheyden J, Sun D, Jiao J, Jakovcevksi M, Tapper, AR, Akbarian S, Yao WD, Gao FB. (2014) Alterations in microRNA-124 and AMPA receptors contribute to social behavioral deficits in frontotemporal dementia. Nat Med 20:1444-51.

Zhang JP*, Saur TX*, Duke AN, Grant SG, Platt DM, Rowlett JK, Isacson O, Yao WD. (2014) Motor impairments, striatal degeneration, and altered dopamine-glutamate interplay in mice lacking PSD-95. J Neurogenet, 28:98-111.

Ruan H, Saur TX, Yao WD. (2014) Dopamine-enabled anti-Hebbian timing-dependent plasticity in prefrontal circuitry. Front Neural Circuits. Apr 23;8:38. doi: 10.3389/fncir.2014.00038.

Peng L, Liu H, Ruan H, Tepp WH, Stoothoff WH, Brown RH, Johnson EA, Yao WD, Zhang SC, and Dong M. (2013) Cytotoxicity of Botulinum Neurotoxins Reveals Essential Neuronal Plasma Membrane SNAREs. Nat Commun 4:1472.

Shulha HP, Crisci J, Reshetov D, Cheung I, Bharadwaj R, Chou HJ, Peter CJ, Houston I, Yao WD, Myers RH, Chen JF, Preuss TM, Rogaev E, Jensen JD, Weng Z, Akbarian S. (2012) Human-specific histone methylation signatures at transcription start sites in prefrontal neurons. PLoS Biol; 10(11):e1001427.

Xu TX, Yao WD. (2010) D1 and D2 dopamine receptors in separate circuits cooperate to drive associative long-term potentiation in the prefrontal cortex. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A; 107:16366-71.

Xu TX, Sotnikova TD, Liang C, Zhang J, Jung JU, Spealman RD, Gainetdinov RR, Yao WD. (2009) Hyperdopaminergic tone erodes prefrontal LTP via a D2 receptor-operated protein phosphatase gate. J Neurosci; 29:14086-99.

Zhang JP, Xu TX, Hallett PJ, Watanabe M, Grant SGN, Isacson O Yao WD (2009). PSD-95 Uncouples Dopamine-Glutamate Interaction in the D1/PSD-95/NMDA Receptor Complex. J Neurosci 29: 2948-2960.

Zhang JP, Vinuela A, Neely MH, Grant SG, Miller GM, Isacson O, Caron MG, Yao WD. (2007) Inhibition of the dopamine D1 receptor signaling by PSD-95. J Biol Chem; 282:15778-89.


UpstateOnline: Empire Innovation Scholar comes to Upstate, by way of Harvard, to unlock mysteries of the brain

Harvard Med School: Protein's Balancing Act May Provide Handle on Psychiatric Disease

The University of Iowa

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