• Synapse development and function

    We are investigating how synaptic cell adhesion and signaling guide synaptic function and connectivity in the developing human brain, with the ultimate goal of understanding how synaptic dysfunction arising from genetic mutations in synaptic molecules functionally contribute to neuropsychiatric disorders.

  • Research


    Nerve cells in the brain communicate through specialized junctions called synapses. Synaptic connections need to be properly formed, specified and maintained during development and throughout life. Aberrations in this process lead to various neuropsychiatric diseases such as intellectual disability, autism spectrum disorders, and schizophrenia. Therefore, understanding the fundamental roles of proteins important for synaptic development and function is crucial to enhance our understanding and treatment of these disorders.


    To this end, we are currently interested in three major areas:

    1. Developing novel tools to better model human synaptic development.

    2. Understanding the normal functions of synaptic cell adhesion molecules and their signaling partners and how they are misregulated in disease states.

    3. Probing disease-relevant mechanisms using patient-derived iPS cells.


    We take a multidisciplinary approach including, human pluripotent stem cell-derived neural cells, genome engineering, patient derived iPSCs, and various techniques in synaptic biology, molecular and cellular biology.  

  • People

    ChangHui Pak, Ph.D.

    Assistant Professor

    ChangHui received her B.A. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and her Ph.D. from Emory University School of Medicine. During her graduate work with Drs. Anita Corbett and Ken Moberg, she studied how RNA processing affects normal neural function in Drosophila. Then she moved to Stanford University School of Medicine to work with Dr. Thomas Sudhof (Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine 2013) to study molecular basis of synaptic function. She was supported by postdoctoral NRSA from NICHD and Katharine McCormick award. She is now a faculty member in the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at UMass Amherst. In her new lab, she plans to develop novel cellular tools to better understand synaptic dysfunction in disease. She teaches BMB424 (Advanced Biochemistry) and BMB/MCB642 (Advanced molecular biology) at UMass.

    Danny McSweeney

    Ph.D. Student (MCB)

    Originally from Atlanta, GA, Danny started his professional career in technical theater, working in costume shops and opera houses in Washington, DC as a clothing tailor. After five years in the costuming industry, Danny decided to transition into a career in scientific research, pursuing a B.S. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology first at the University of Southern Maine and finally at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Danny has continued on to pursue a Ph.D. in molecular and cell biology at UMass. Using in vitro neuronal differentiation methods developed by our lab, he is motivated to investigate how proteins regulate human synapse maturation and function and how these proteins contribute to neurodevelopmental diseases like autism spectrum disorders and intellectual differences.

    Rebecca Sebastian

    Ph.D. Student (NSB)

    Narciso Pavon

    Joint Ph.D. student with Sun lab (NSB)












    Juliana Babu

    Undergraduate researcher


    Juliana is an undergraduate majoring in biochemistry and neuroscience. She's interested in studying the biological basis of mental disorders and the specific differences in neuron function that causes them. She joined the Pak lab because of the opportunity to study neuron dysfunction in more depth and discover how various neuropsychiatric disorders develop.

    Rafael Gabriel

    Undergraduate researcher

    Rafael studied and received his high school diploma at Peabody Veterans Memorial High School. He is now working on his bachelors in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at UMASS Amherst and has been accepted into the Departmental Honors College for Biochemistry. Here at UMASS, he works as a research assistant in Prof. ChangHui Pak's lab. Rafael is currently working on stem cell derived neural cells to study brain and synaptic development. Rafael plans to complete a senior thesis on the research he conducts on campus and hopes to further his education in medicine after he graduates.

    Ruby Bansal

    Research fellow/Lab manager

    Ruby got her B.S degree in Biochemistry from the University of Massachusetts and has been working in research ever since. Her interest in the molecular mechanisms underlying brain disease and dysfunction began with her work in Dr. Vijaya Ramesh's lab at Mass General Hospital in Boston studying the neurological disorder Neurofibromatosis-2. After some time in Boston, the quiet life of Western Massachusetts called her back and she spent the next 19 years working at the University of Massachusetts in Dr. R.T. Zoeller's lab studying the mechanisms of thyroid hormone directed brain development and chemical pollutants known as endocrine disruptors that interfere with normal brain development. Ruby is excited to join the Pak lab and learn cutting edge techniques to further her knowledge of brain dysfunction as well as to help mentor students and manage day to day lab operations. In her free time Ruby enjoys spending time with her husband and two kids, running and sewing.

  • Lab Alumni

    Anh Nguyen, Research Fellow

    Tasneem Rini Rinvee, Undergraduate researcher

    Isabelle Maraschi, Undergraduate researcher

  • Selected Publications

    Pak C, Grieder S, Yang N, Zhang Y, Wernig M, Südhof TC. “Rapid generation of functional and homogeneous excitatory human forebrain neurons using Neurogenin-2 (Ngn2),” Protocol Exchange 2018, DOI:.10.1038/protex.2018.082.


    Bienkowski R, Rha J, Banerjee A, Rounds JC, Gross C, Pak C, Morris KJ, Jones SK, Santoro MR, Warren ST, Bassell GJ, Corbett AH, Moberg KH. “The conserved, disease-associated RNA-binding protein dNab2 interacts with the Fragile-X protein ortholog in Drosophila neurons.” Cell Reports 2017, 20(6)1372-1384 PMID: 28793261


    Lee SJ, Wei M, Zhang C, Maxeiner S, Pak C, Botelho SC, Trotter J, Sterky FH, Südhof TC. “Presynaptic neuronal pentraxin receptor organizes excitatory and inhibitory synapses.” Journal of Neuroscience 2016, 2768-16 PMID: 27986928


    Fei Y, Danko, Botelho SB, Patzke, Pak C, Wernig M, Südhof TC, “Autism-Associated SHANK3 Haploinsufficiency Causes Ih-Channelopathy in Human Neurons.” Science 2016 352 (6286): aaf2669 PMID: 26966193


    Pak C, Danko T, Zhang Y, Aoto J, Anderson G, Maxeiner S, Yi F, Wernig M, Südhof TC, “Human neuropsychiatric disease modeling using conditional deletion reveals synaptic transmission defects caused by heterozygous mutations in NRXN1.” Cell Stem Cell 2015 17 (3) 316-328 PMID: 26279266


    Chanda S, Ang CE, Davila J, Pak C, Mall M, Lee QY, Ahlenius H, Jung SW, Südhof TC, Wernig M “Generation of induced neuronal cells by the single reprogramming factor ASCL1.” Stem Cell Reports 2014 3 (2) 282-296 PMID: 25254342


    Kelly SM, Leung SW, Pak C, Banerjee A, Moberg KH, and Corbett AH, “A conserved role for the zinc finger polyadenosine RNA binding protein, ZC3H14, in control of poly(A) tail length.” RNA 2014 20 1-9 PMID: 24671764


    Zhang Y, Pak C, Han Y, Ahlenius H, Zhang Z, Chanda S, Marro S, Patzke C, Acuna C, Covy J, Xu W, Yang N, Danko T, Chen L, Wernig M, Südhof TC “Rapid single-step induction of functional neurons from human pluripotent stem cells.” Neuron 2013 78 (5) 785-798 PMID: 23764284


    Kelly SM, Pak C, Kuss A, Corbett AH, Moberg KH. “New kid on the ID block: Neural functions of the Nab2/ZC3H14 class of Cys3His tandem zinc-finger poly(A)-binding proteins.” Invited Point of View for RNA Biology. RNA Biology 2012 May 1;9(5) PMID:22614829


    Pak C, Garshasbi M, Kahrizi M, Gross C, Apponi LH, Noto JJ, Kelly SM, Leung SW, Tzschach A, Behjatie F, Abedinie SS, Mohsenie M, Jensen LR, Hu H, Huang B, Stahley SN, Liu G, Williams KR, Burdick SK, Feng Y, Sanyal S, Bassell GJ, Ropers HH, Najmabadi H, Corbett AH, Moberg KH, Kuss AW. “Mutation of the conserved polyadenosine RNA-binding protein ZC3H14/dNab2 impairs neural function in Drosophila and humans.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 2011 108 (30) 12390-12395 PMID:21734151




  • Join our lab

    We are searching for passionate, curious and motivated scientists to join our team!

    Graduate students

    We welcome graduate students affiliated with MCB and NSB graduate programs. Interested students should email PI at cpak@umass.edu for rotation opportunities.

    Postdoctoral fellow

    Currently we are searching for postdoctoral fellow with strong electrophysiology background to start immediately. This position is grant-funded from 2020-2025. Interested candidates contact cpak@umass.edu and using the direct link: https://careers.umass.edu/amherst/en-us/job/504451/post-doc-in-biochemistry-and-molecular-biology.

    Undergraduate students

    Interested candidates should email ruby@umass.edu for an application.

  • Contact Us

    We would love to hear from you!

    240 Thatcher Way LSL N226
    Amherst, MA 01003
  • Pak Lab News

    Lab holiday party - dumplings and salad bowl

    November 2019

    Lab bowling madness

    September 2019

    Pak lab photo

    August 2019

    Emily (Mount Holyoke College) has successfully completed her summer internship in the lab!

    June-July 2019

    Lab tubing trip on Deerfield River!

    July 2019

    Welcome to our fantastic cohort of undergraduate researchers - Rini, Rafael and Juliana!

    September 2018

  • We thank our supporters!

    NIH T32/UMASS Biotechnology Training Program Fellowship 2020-2021 (Narciso Pavon)

    NIMH R01 Molecular Dissection of Synaptic Dysfunction in Mental Disorders (PI - Pak)

    American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Award (Juliana Babu)

    MDI Biological Laboratory Quantitative Fluorescence Microscopy Course Scholarship 2020 (Danny McSweeney)

    IONS Neuroengineering Seed Fund (Pak with Sun lab)

    NIH T32/UMASS Biotechnology Training Program Fellowship 2019-2021 (Danny McSweeney)

    UMASS Honors College Research Assistant Fellowship (Rafael Gabriel)