Quan Yuan, Ph.D.

Stadtman Investigator

Dendrite Morphogenesis and Plasticity Unit


Building 35, Room 1B-1002
35 Convent Drive
Bethesda, MD 20892



Research Topics

Proper functions of neuronal circuits rely on the fidelity of their assembly, while adaptive modifications are also essential. Our research objectives are to understand how the balance of reliability and flexibility is achieved and regulated in neural circuits, and its functional implications in physiological and pathological conditions.

The discovery of a surprising degree of wiring plasticity in the Drosophila larval visual system provides us opportunities to study the experience-dependent plasticity in a simple yet powerful system. We observed large scale homeostatic modification of the dendritic arbor of ventral lateral neurons (LNvs) by visual experience during larval development. This structural plasticity is accompanied by the changes in synapse number and physiological response to light. Our genetic analyses have uncovered novel molecules involved in the regulation of activity-dependent structural modification, with connections to functional plasticity such as learning and memory.

The Drosophila system allows rapid identification of genetic components and systematic studies using anatomical, physiological and behavioral approaches. We are currently carrying out projects to: identify molecular components underlying structural plasticity in the fly larval visual circuit; determine cellular mechanisms regulating light-mediated behaviors in Drosophila larvae; and investigate the functional consequences of deficits in homeostatic neuronal plasticity.


Dr. Yuan received her B.S. from Lanzhou University, China and earned her Ph.D. In 2005 from the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied the role of serotonergic regulation in circadian rhythms and sleep with Dr. Amita Sehgal. From 2006 to 2012, Dr. Yuan received her postdoctoral training at University of California, San Francisco in Dr. Lily Jan and YuhNung Jan's laboratory, where she developed a system to study experience-dependent structural and functional plasticity in Drosophila larval visual circuit. Dr. Yuan joined NINDS as an investigator in 2013. Her laboratory employs Drosophila as a model system to study the cellular and molecular mechanism underlying the regulation of dendrite morphogenesis and developmental plasticity.

Selected Publications

  1. Sheng C, Javed U, Gibbs M, Long C, Yin J, Qin B, Yuan Q. Experience-dependent structural plasticity targets dynamic filopodia in regulating dendrite maturation and synaptogenesis. Nat Commun. 2018;9(1):3362.

  2. Yin J, Yuan Q. Structural homeostasis in the nervous system: a balancing act for wiring plasticity and stability. Front Cell Neurosci. 2014;8:439.

  3. Yuan Q, Song Y, Yang CH, Jan LY, Jan YN. Female contact modulates male aggression via a sexually dimorphic GABAergic circuit in Drosophila. Nat Neurosci. 2014;17(1):81-8.

  4. Frank CA, Wang X, Collins CA, Rodal AA, Yuan Q, Verstreken P, Dickman DK. New approaches for studying synaptic development, function, and plasticity using Drosophila as a model system. J Neurosci. 2013;33(45):17560-8.

  5. Klassen MP, Yuan Q. Dendrite plasticity: branching out for greener pastures. Curr Biol. 2013;23(16):R687-8.

This page was last updated on September 13th, 2018