Principal Investigator

Yi Rao
Neurobiology and Genetics


Yi Rao,Professor


Research Interests:

My lab investigates molecular and cellular mechanisms underlying behavior and cognition.

        In animals, we use genetics, molecular biology and biophysics to study chemical connection/transmissome, including chemical transmitters and receptors. We generate mutant flies and rodents that lack a transmitter or its receptor to determine their roles. Neural circuits of defined neurochemistry are revealed anatomically by modern imaging and manipulated functionally by logic gates created by specific transcriptional promoters. Our chemical connection/transmissome approach has led to discoveries of molecules and cells regulating sleep and social behaviors. We demonstrate that it is possible to identify neurotransmitters and receptors for different behaviors.

        In humans, we use genetics, genomics and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate genes and brain regions important for behavior and cognition. Our goal is to identify all neurotransmitters and receptors in the brain for behavior and cognition.  Mechanisms conserved from animals to humans allow fundamental understanding of behaviors of evolutionary significance. Mechanisms unique to humans help to further understanding of ourselves.

Selected Publications:

1.  Zhang SS, Liu Y and Y Rao (2013). Serotonin signaling in the brain of adult female mic is required for sexual preference.  Proc Natl Ac ad Sci USA 110:9968-9973.    

2.  Liu W, Liang X, Gong J, Yang Z, Zhang Y-H, Zhang J-X and Y Rao (2011). Social regulation of aggression by pheromonal activation of Or65a olfactory neurons in Drosophila. Nature Neuroscience 14:896-902.

3.  Liu Y, Jiang Y, Si Y, Kim J-Y, Chen Z-F, and Y Rao (2011). Molecular regulation of sexual preference revealed by genetic studies of 5-HT in the brain of male mice. Nature 472:95-99

4.   Zhou C, Rao Y, andY  Rao (2008). A subset of octopaminergic neurons are important for Drosophila aggression. Nature Neuroscience 11:1059-1061 .

5.  Li X, Gao X, Liu G, Xiong W, Wu J and Y Rao (2008). Netrin signal transduction and the guanine nucleotide exchange factor DOCK180 inattractive signaling. Nature Neuroscience 11:28-35.

6.  Guo W, Jiang H, Gray V, Dedhar S, and Y Rao (2007). Role of the integrin-linked kinase (ILK) in determining neuronal polarity.Developmental Biology 306: 457-468.

7.  Jiang H, Guo W, Liang XH, and Y Rao (2005). Both the establishment and the maintenance of neuronal polarity require active mechanisms: critical roles of GSK-3beta and its upstream regulators. Cell 120:123-135.

8.  Liu G, Beggs H, Jürgensen C, Park HT, Tang H, Gorski J, Jones KR, Reichardt LF, Wu JY, and Y Rao (2004). Netrin requires the focal adhesion kinase and the Src family kinases to induce axon outgrowth and to attract axons. Nature Neuroscience 7:1222-1232.

9.  Ward ME, Wu JY and Y Rao (2004). Visualization of spatially and temporally regulated N-WASP activity during cytoskeletal reorganization in living cells. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 101:970-974.

10.  Zhu Y, Yu T, Zhang X-C, Nagasawa T, Wu JY, and Y Rao (2002). Role of the chemokine SDF-1 as the meningeal attractant for embryonic cerebellar neurons. Nature Neuroscience 5:719-720.

11.  Wong K., Ren X-R, Huang Y-Z, Xie Y., Liu G., Saito H., Tang H., Wen L., Brady-Kalnay S.M., Mei L., Wu J.Y., Xiong W-C, and Y Rao. (2001) Signal Transduction in Neuronal Migration: Roles of GTPase Activating Proteins and the Small GTPase Cdc42 in the Slit-Robo Pathway. Cell 107: 209-221.

12.   Wu JY, Feng L, Park H-T, Havlioglu N, Wen L, Tang H, Bacon KB, Jiang Z, Zhang X-C, and Y Rao (2001). Slit, a neuronal repellent, inhibits leukocyte chemotaxis induced by chemotactic factors. Nature 410:948-952.

13. Li HS,Chen JH, Wu W, Fagaly T, Yuan WL, Zhou L, Dupuis S, Jiang Z, Nash W, Gick C, Ornitz D, Wu JY, and Y Rao(1999). Vertebrate Slit, a secreted ligand for the transmembrane protein Roundabout, is a repellent for olfactory bulb axons. Cell 96:807-818.

14.   Wu W, Wong K, Chen JH, Jiang ZH, Dupuis S, Wu JY, and Y Rao (1999). Directional guidance of neuronal migration in the olfactory system by the protein Slit. Nature 400:331-336.

15.   Li HS, Tierney C, Wen L, Wu JY and Y Rao (1997). A single morphogenetic field gives rise to two retina primordia under the influence of the prechordal mesoderm. Development 124:603-615.

16.  Rao Y, Jan LY and Jan YN (1990). Similarity of the product of the Drosophila neurogenic gene big brain to transmembrane channel proteins. Nature 345:163-167.


Lab Website: