Research

Research Overview

The Sun lab studies the most numerous cells in the brain, called “glial cells”. We aim to understand the fundamental principles that govern the communications between the nerve cells (neurons) and the glial cells in health and disease.

In vertebrates (including human beings), nearly half of the brain cells are non-neuronal cells.  Most of them are glial cells, including astrocytes, oligodendrocytes, and microglia. Unlike neurons, glial cells do not fire action potentials but they are critical for normal nervous system function. We have focused on the oligodendrocytes, the sole myelin-producing cells in the central nervous system. Despite decades of research, how oligodendrocytes develop and communicate with neurons and other cell types remain mysterious. For example, why are oligodendrocytes always overproduced and then pruned? How do oligodendrocytes choose and ensheath nearby axons? Is there any selectivity between axons and individual oligodendrocyte’s processes (20-30 per oligodendrocyte)? How are the location and timing of myelination strictly controlled across diverse brain regions?

Our lab is dedicated to addressing these questions with multi-disciplinary approaches. To do that, we have combined mouse genetics, primary glial culture, biochemistry, electron microscopy, tissue clearance and super-resolution imaging, proteomics, and next-generation sequencing to identify and dissect out the underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms. Understanding how glial cells develop and communicate with others is essential to tackle many neurological diseases, including demyelinating diseases, brain tumors, and Alzheimer’s disease, that are significantly contributed by glial dysfunction.

We are actively seeking motivated postdoctoral fellows, graduate students, and undergraduate students to join our team.