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Chris Li

Chris Li


Developmental neurobiology

Molecular neurogenetics

85 St Nicholas Terrace

New York , NY 10031
Office Phone: (212) 650-8450


  1. Ph.D., Harvard University
  2. M.S., Columbia University
  3. A.B., Barnard College, Columbia University


Programs: Neuroscience (NS), Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology (MCD), Biochemistry 
Office: CDI 3-348, 212-650-8450
Lab: CDI 3-240, 212-650-8533

Laboratory personnel:
Graduate Students: Adanna Alexander. Alexander Mir
Master's Student: Ingrid Buntschuh
Undergraduate Students: Swera Cheema, Trinisia Fortuna, Alexander Chait, Raymond Zou, Christopher Reid, Katie Cheng, Anika Nabila, Felix Granovskiy


My lab uses molecular genetic approaches to address two questions in neurobiology.  In our first project, we are interested in how different neurotransmitters affect the behavior of an organism.  We are using the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans as our model system and have focused on examining the role of a specific class of neurotransmitter, the neuropeptides.  We are interested in the family of FMRFamide-related peptides, which have been implicated in pain modulation in mammals.  At least 31 genes encode FMRFamide-related peptides, or FLPs, in C. elegans.  To understand the role of the different flp genes, we have begun the task of determining the expression pattern and knocking out each flp gene.  Although there is functional overlap between the genes, inactivation of certain flp genes leads to behavioral defects, including defects in movement, reproduction, oxygen response, and fat accumulation.  Insights into the role of the flp genes may reveal how neuropeptides are used in mammalian systems as well as in parasitic nematodes, which infect over one billion people worldwide. 
In a second project, we are using C. elegans as a model to examine genes implicated in neurodegenerative disorders.  Mutations in the human APP gene have been linked to familial Alzheimer's Disease.  The functions of APP and APP-related genes in humans, however, are unclear.  C. elegans contains one APP-related gene, apl-1, which encodes a protein that is highly similar to human APP.  apl-1 has an essential function in C. elegans.  Loss of apl-1 disrupts several developmental processes, including molting and morphogenesis, and results in larval lethality.  Expression of the extracellular domain of APL-1 is sufficient to rescue the apl-1 lethality, suggesting that apl-1 acts non-cell autonomously as a signaling molecule.  Overexpression of APL-1 also causes several phenotypes, including an incompletely penetrant lethality, suggesting that levels of APL-1 need to be tightly regulated to ensure the animal’s viability.  We are examining the role of apl-1 and identifying the genes that act in the same pathway as apl-1.  Although different organisms may use APP and related proteins in different functional contexts, the pathways in which they function and the molecules with which they interact are likely to be conserved.  Hence, identification of pathways relevant to APL-1 may provide insights into the roles and cellular pathways of human APP.

Recent publications:

Hornsten A, Lieberthal J, Fadia S, Malins R, Ha L, Xu X, Daigle I, Markowitz M, O’Connor G, Plasterk R, Li C (2007) APL-1, a C. elegans protein related to human Amyloid Precursor Protein, is essential for viability.  Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 104:1971-1976.  Selected as an Editors’ Choice Science 315:914 (2007)

Liu T, Kim K, Li C, Barr M (2007) FMRFamide-like neuropeptides and mechanosensory touch receptor neurons regulate male sexual turning behavior in Caenorhabditis elegans.  J Neurosci 27:7174-7182.

Niwa R, Zhou F, Li C, Slack F (2008) The expression of the Alzheimer’s amyloid precursor protein-like gene is regulated by developmental timing using microRNAs and their targets in Caenorhabditis elegans. Dev Biol 315:418-425.

Seid M, Goode K, Li C, Traniello J (2008) Age- and subcaste -related patterns of serotonergic immunoreactivity in the optic lobes of the ant Pheidole dentata.  Develop Neurobiol 68:1325-1333.

Hoopes JT, Liu X, Xu X, Demeier B, Folta-Stognlew E, Li E, Ha Y (2010) Structural characterization of the E2 domain of APL-1, a C. elegans homolog of human amyloid precursor protein, and its heparin binding site.  J Biol Chem 285:2165-2173.

Dimitriadi, M., J.N. Sleigh, A.K. Walker, H.C.-H. Chang, A. Sen, G. Kalloo, J. Harris, T. Barsby, M.B. Walsh, J.S. Satterlee, C. Li, D. Van Vactor, S. Artavanis-Tsakonas, and A. Hart (2010) Conserved genes act as modifiers of invertebrate SMN loss of function defects.  PLoS Genetics 6(10): e1001172. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1001172.

Arimoto M,  Koushika S, Choudhary B, Li C, Matsumoto K, Hisamoto N (2011) The C. elegans JIP3 protein UNC-16 functions as an adaptor to link kinesin-1 with cytoplasmic dynein.  J Neurosc 31:2216-2224.

Cha DS, Hollis SE, Datia US, Lee S, Ryu J, Jung HR, Kim E, Kim K, Lee M, Li C, Lee MH (2012) Differential subcellular localization of DNA topoisomerase-1 isoforms and their roles during Caenorhabditis elegans development.  Gene Expression Patterns 12:189-195.

Ewald CY, Raps DA, Li C (2012) APL-1, the Alzheimer’s amyloid precursor protein in Caenorhabditis elegans modulates multiple metabolic pathways throughout development.  Genetics 191: 493-507.

Ewald  CY, Cheng R, Tolen L, Shah V, Gillani A, Nasrin A, Li C (2012) Pan-neuronal expression of APL-1, an APP-related protein, disrupts olfactory, gustatory, and touch plasticity in C. elegans.  J. Neurosci. 32:10156-10169.

Li C, Timbers TA, Rose JK, Bozorgmehr T, McEwan A, Rankin CR (2013) The FMRFamide-related neuropeptide FLP-20 is required in the mechanosensory neurons during memory for massed training in C. elegans.  Learning and Memory 16:103-108.

Chang Y-J, Burton T, Ha L, Huang Z, Olajubelo A, C Li (2015) Modulation of locomotion and reproduction by FLP neuropeptides in the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans.  PLoS ONE, in press.

Kim J, Yeon J, Choi S-K, Huh YH, Fang Z, Park SJ, Kim MO, Ryoo ZY, Kang K, Kweon H-S, Joon WB, Li, C, Kim K (2015) The evolutionarily conserved LIM homeodomain protein LIM-4/LHX6 specifies the terminal identity of a cholingeric and peptidergic C. elegans sensory/inter/motor neuron-type.  PLoS Genetics, in press.

Book Chapters & Reviews

Li C, Kim K (2008) Neuropeptides in C. elegansIn WormBook, online review of C. elegans biology,

Ewald CY, Li C (2010) Understanding the molecular basis of Alzheimer’s disease using a Caenorhabditis elegans model system.  Brain Structure & Function 124:263-283.

Li C, Kim K (2010) Neuropeptide gene families in Caenorhabditis elegans. In Neuropeptide Systems as Targets for Parasite and Pest Control, Adv. Exp. Med. Biol. 692:98-137.

Ewald CY, Li C (2012) Caenorhabditis elegans as a model organism to study APP function.  Experimental Brain Research 217:397-411.

Ewald CY, Li C (2012) The secreted Alzheimer-related amyloid precursor protein fragment has an essential role in C. elegans.  Prion 6:1-4.

Alexander A, Marfil V, Li C (2014) Use of Caenorhabditis elegans as a model to study Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders. Front Genet Sep 5;5:279. doi: 10.3389/fgene.2014.00279. eCollection 2014.

Li C, Kim K (2014) Family of FLP peptides in Caenorhabditis elegans and related nematodes.  Front Endocrinol Oct 14;5:150. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2014.00150. eCollection 2014.