Lihsia Chen, PhD

Associate Professor, Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development



C. elegans, L1CAM cell adhesion molecules, Autism, Neuropsychiatric disorders


Research Summary/Interests

The L1CAM family of cell adhesion molecules is important for nervous system development and function. Mutations in L1CAM are linked to the L1 neurological disorder, autism, and neuropsychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia and addiction. To better understand how impaired L1CAM functions result in nervous system dysfunction, the Chen lab uses C. elegans as a genetic model organism to dissect L1CAM roles and mechanisms of action. Current projects are focused on the two C. elegans L1CAM genes, lad-1/sax-7 and lad-2, which have non-overlapping functions in maintaining neural organization and axon guidance, respectively.

In dissecting how SAX-7 maintains neural architecture throughout the life of an animal, we determined anchorage of SAX-7 to the dystrophin- and spectrin-actin cytoskeletons is important. This finding may provide insight into why a large percentage of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy patients with impaired dystrophin function also suffer from cognitive deficits and neuropsychiatric disorders besides muscle dystrophy. In addition to neural organization maintenance, we recently identified a novel role for sax-7 that impinges on synaptic function. We are currently using molecular genetic approaches to identify this novel sax-7 function.

Having identified LAD-2 as a receptor that mediates targeted axon migration, we are focusing on 1) identifying guidance cues to which LAD-2 responds and 2) determining how LAD-2 integrates and translates these extracellular guidance signals intracellularly.