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.
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:
Developing novel tools to better model human synaptic development.
Understanding the normal functions of synaptic cell adhesion molecules and their signaling partners and how they are misregulated in disease states.
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.
ChangHui Pak, Ph.D.
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.
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.
Ph.D. Student (NSB)
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.
Rini is a rising senior majoring in Biochemistry while pursuing a minor in Psychology & Brain Studies. She is very interested in studying neurodegenerative diseases and neurological disorders, which she had the incredible opportunities to explore through internships in pharmaceutical companies and in the Pak Lab. She joined the Pak Lab to further explore neuropsychiatric diseases in depth, and is attempting to rapidly and efficiently generate functional brain cells from stem cells. She will be using her research from the Pak Lab to conduct a senior thesis and hopes to pursue a PhD upon graduating in May 2020.
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.
Isabelle is an undergraduate majoring in Biochemistry and Neuroscience with a minor in Spanish. She is very interested in studying neurological disorders and the specific neuronal pathways that causes them. She joined the Pak Lab to further expand her understanding in such complex neuropsychiatric diseases by researching stem cells derived neural cells. She will be using her research in the Pak Lab to synthesize her own Senior Thesis and pursue a Medical Career in Psychiatry after graduating May of 2022.
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.
Anh Nguyen, Research Fellow
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!
We welcome graduate students affiliated with MCB and NSB graduate programs. Interested students should email PI at firstname.lastname@example.org for rotation opportunities.
Currently we are searching for a postdoctoral fellow with strong electrophysiology background to start immediately. Interested candidates should apply directly to this link: https://careers.umass.edu/amherst/en-us/job/504451/post-doc-in-biochemistry-and-molecular-biology.
Interested candidates should email email@example.com for an application.
Pak Lab News
Lab holiday party - dumplings and salad bowl
Lab bowling madness
Pak lab photo
Emily (Mount Holyoke College) has successfully completed her summer internship in the lab!
Lab tubing trip on Deerfield River!
Welcome to our fantastic cohort of undergraduate researchers - Rini, Rafael and Juliana!
We thank our supporters!
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 (Danny McSweeney)
UMASS Honors College Research Assistant Fellowship (Rafael Gabriel)