Zhen Yan

Primary Appointment

  • Associate Professor, Medicine- Cardiovascular Medicine

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Research Interest(s)

Molecular and signaling mechanisms of skeletal muscle plasticity.

Research Description



Skeletal muscle is remarkably plastic such that alteration in contractile load, hormonal shifts, or systemic diseases can induce profound phenotypic changes. Research in this laboratory focuses on skeletal muscle adaptations induced by endurance exercise and maladaptation under chronic heart failure and type 2 diabetes mellitus conditions. We employ the state-of-the-art technologies, such as in vivo bioluminescence imaging, in a variety of experimental models ranging from cultured cells to genetically engineered mice. Our goal is to improve the understanding of the molecular and signaling mechanisms underlying physiological adaptation and pathological maladaptation in skeletal muscle.

1. Exercise-induced skeletal muscle adaptation
Accumulating evidence suggests that increased peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor γ co-activator-1a (Pgc-1a) expression plays a pivotal role in exercise-induced adaptation in skeletal muscle; however, the molecular mechanisms remain elusive. Our studies defined an essential role of p38γ mitogen-activated protein kinase (MAPK) in promoting Pgc-1a transcription and metabolic adaptation (mitochondrial biogenesis and angiogenesis). We have also confirmed that p38a and p38β and their downstream E3 ubiquitin ligases and autophagy-related genes in the proteolytic processes in muscle wasting. We are currently investigating the isoform-specific function of p38 MAPK in physiological adaptation induced by endurance exercise training and in pathological maladaptations in catabolic wasting and metabolic disorders.

2. Mitophagy in type 2 diabetes mellitus
Impaired mitochondrial plays a critical role in the pathogenesis of type 2 diabetes mellitus; however, the precise mechanism remains poorly understood. We have obtained substantial evidence that lipid overload induces accumulation of damaged mitochondria in skeletal muscle. We are taking advantage of various experimental models ranging from cultured muscle cells to genetically engineered mice to address the importance of mitochondrial maintenance in insulin resistance. Specifically, we are interested in the critical steps involved in mitochondrial degeneration and clearance (mitochondrial autophagy or mitophagy).

3. NO-dependent protection against muscle wasting
Cachexia is a serve medical condition characterized by loss of muscle mass (catabolic wasting) and associated with many chronic diseases. The direct causes are skeletal muscle abnormalities as consequences of accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) and associated cellular damages. It is well known that muscles of oxidative phenotype are resistant to catabolic wasting; however, the underlying mechanism remains to be defined. We have shown that in a mouse genetic model of CHF [cardiac-specific calsequestrin (CSQ) transgenic mice] this muscle protection is due to a nitric oxide (NO)-dependent antioxidant defense through activation of the Keap1/Nrf2 scaffold protein-transcription factor complex. We are focusing on the regulation and function of extracellular superoxide dismutase (EcSOD or SOD3) in NO-dependent protection against cachexia in skeletal muscle using both transgenic and somatic gene transfer approaches.

Selected Publications

  • Yan Z, Zeng L, Li Z, Zhang H, Chen W, Jia L, Chen C, Cheng H, Cao J, Xu K. Bone Marrow-derived Endothelial Progenitor Cells Promote Hematopoietic Reconstitution After Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation. Transplantation proceedings. 2013;45(1): 427-33. PMID: 23375333
  • Lin J, Zhang C, Yan Z, Zhu Y, Peng Z, Hauge R, Natelson D, Tour J. 3-dimensional graphene carbon nanotube carpet-based microsupercapacitors with high electrochemical performance. Nano letters. 2012;13(1): 72-8. PMID: 23237453
  • Liu X, Guan X, Chen R, Hua H, Liu Y, Yan Z. Repurposing of yunnan baiyao as an alternative therapy for minor recurrent aphthous stomatitis. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM. 2012;2012 284620. PMID: 23258985 | PMCID: PMC3521495
  • Yan Z, Fan K, Wang X, Mao Q, Deng G, Wang Y. Efficacy and safety of low-dose peginterferon alpha-2a plus ribavirin on chronic hepatitis C. Gastroenterology research and practice. 2012;2012 302093. PMID: 23258976 | PMCID: PMC3519007
  • Yan Z, Lin J, Peng Z, Sun Z, Zhu Y, Li L, Xiang C, Samuel E, Kittrell C, Tour J. Correction to toward the synthesis of wafer-scale single-crystal graphene on copper foils. ACS nano. 2012;7(1): 875. PMID: 23249223
  • Yin H, Yan Z, Liang Y, Liu B, Su Q. Expression profile analyses of human HCT-116 colon cancer cell line before and after serum induction. Gene. 2012. PMID: 23266807
  • Gao L, Balakrishnan S, He W, Yan Z, Müller R. Ear deformations give bats a physical mechanism for fast adaptation of ultrasonic beam patterns. Physical review letters. 2011;107(21): 214301. PMID: 22181884
  • Xu Z, Yan Z, Li B, Yang Y, Li Y. Preparation of artificial frustules and investigation of the formation mechanism. Journal of controlled release : official journal of the Controlled Release Society. 2011;152 e223-4. PMID: 22195870
  • Zhao Z, Luo Z, Wang P, Sun J, Yu H, Cao T, Ni Y, Chen J, Yan Z, Liu D, Zhu Z. Rosiglitazone Restores Endothelial Dysfunction in a Rat Model of Metabolic Syndrome through PPARγ- and PPARδ-Dependent Phosphorylation of Akt and eNOS. PPAR research. 2011;2011 291656. PMID: 22190906 | PMCID: PMC3236323