Ye Zhang, Ph.D. 

Assistant Professor, Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

Bio

Ye Zhang, Ph.D., studies the biology of glial cells – non-neuronal cells of the brain and nervous system – to understand their role in development and disease. Her research aim is to use glia-based tools and technology to develop treatments for neurodegenerative disorders like multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s disease.

Originally thought to be passive support cells for neurons, glia are now known to be critical to the development and function of the central nervous system. Key functions of glia include modulating communication between neurons, maintaining balance, protecting the brain, and insulating the fibers that allow neurons to transmit signals to other cells. In recent years, glia have been found to play a role in almost every type of neurological and psychiatric disorder. However, the cellular and molecular mechanisms that control these cells’ development and function in both healthy and diseased brains remain poorly understood.

Zhang’s research program combines developmental neurobiology, genetic sequencing and computational analysis to study the biology of glial cells. She is particularly interested in how the three major subtypes of glia communicate and how this process breaks down as a result of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Her lab develops and utilizes genetic tools that selectively block communication between specific subtypes of glia and other brain cells to study the resulting changes in development and function. This work is yielding insights that could lead to the development of regenerative therapies to repair the damage caused by conditions like multiple sclerosis.

Zhang also devised new, more efficient methods to isolate and study glia from donated human brain tissue. These techniques enabled her to identify which genes are active in glial subtypes and to pinpoint disease-associated genes. She and others in her field now use this data to study a host of neurological disorders, to examine the differences between glia from the brains of older and younger individuals, and to compare how human and mouse glia respond to diseases and aging. This information will be critical to researchers who aim to translate therapies that show promise in treating neurological conditions in mice to clinical trials in humans.

Zhang earned her doctorate degree in neuroscience at the University of California, San Francisco and completed post-doctoral training at Stanford University.

Publications

Honors & Affiliations

Honors

  • Junior Faculty Award, W. M. Keck Foundation, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, 2020
  • Friends Scholar Award, Friends of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA,  2018

Affiliations

  • Co-director, UCLA Glia Affinity Group

Funding

Zhang’s work is funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the W.M. Keck Foundation.