Xin Duan, PhD

Assistant Professor

Research in my laboratory focuses on the molecular and cellular basis of neural circuit wiring and rewiring, using the mouse retina as a model, with the goal to reconstruct neural circuits and restore physiological functions subject to neurological diseases and neuronal injuries. My previous work addressed how defined subtypes of neurons wire up during retinal development (Duan et al Cell, 2014), and how defined subtypes of retinal ganglion cells mediate axon regeneration in response to injury (Duan et al, Neuron, 2015). The approach is to seek determinants of specificity: genes that account for the different synaptic choices and regenerative abilities of the many subtypes of retinal neurons. To accomplish this goal, we generated molecular and genetic tools to study how subtypes of bipolar interneurons establish specific connectivity with functionally defined retinal ganglion cells. In particular, our past work revealed critical roles of two members of the cadherin superfamily of recognition molecules in assembling a neural circuit for direction-selectivity. The study provided direct evidence for a long-hypothesized “cadherin code” that instructs the specificity of circuit assembly.  Overall, my research program will reveal fundamental mechanisms of circuit assembly and identify new avenues for neuronal regeneration and stem cell based neuronal repair.

Current Projects

Using the mouse retina as the model system, my lab proposes 
(1) to study combinatorial codes of recognition molecules that control synaptic specificity, beginning with the cadherins; 
(2) to define retinal neuron subtypes with the goal to reconstruct the complex circuits; 
(3) to identify the key permissive factors for regeneration. 

Lab Members