Dr Ko-Fan Chen

ko-fan chen.jpgLecturer in Neurogenetics

Email: kc280@leicester.ac.uk

Personal details

BSc (NCKU, Tainan) PhD (QMUL,  London)

From July 2020, I am based at the University of Leicester in my first independent position investigating the visual control of sleep, and its interaction with neurodegeneration. I am originally from Taiwan, where I completed my BSc and MSc degrees in Biology and Physiology at National Cheng Kung University. I then moved to Ralf Stanewsky’s lab in the UK, for my PhD investigating the molecular basis of circadian light entrainment (Queen Mary University of London). For my first postdoc I joined Damian Crowther's lab at the University of Cambridge, where I investigated how rhythmic light regimes alter processes underlying age-related neurodegeneration. I also developed a new method for simultaneously detecting the decline of molecular and behavioural oscillations during age-dependant neurodegeneration in a fly model. I then moved to James Jepson’s lab in the UCL Institute of Neurology to investigate Drosophila Dystonia models, and to continue exploring how variable light-dark cycles modify normal and disease related sleep-wake behaviour.

Personal website: https://sites.google.com/view/kofanchen


View my publications on Google Scholar.


chen1.pngAt least 30% of adult humans suffer from some form of sleep problem. Sleep abnormalities are also associated with neurodegenerative and psychiatric diseases. A major task in sleep research is to quantify the complex interaction between genetic and environmental factors in sleep disorders. Daylight regimes and circadian clock modulate sleep quality and the progression of neurodegeneration. However, the underlying modulation steps and molecular-neural pathways remain largely unknown. The fruit fly Drosophila is a powerful and economical research model to identify molecular mechanisms.  I plan to apply my expertise in fly genetics, circadian and sleep biology, molecular neuroscience and bioinformatics to address the mentioned knowledge gap. I will start by investigating the following two research questions:

chen2.jpg1. What are the neurogenetic mechanisms underlying light- and vision-promoted sleep?

Studies in vertebrates and Drosophila have indicated links between accumulation of visual signals to both sleep quality and quantity. Recent reports also indicate that day length modifies sleep efficiency and that a functional visual system is required for such improvement. My preliminary investigation has identified key genes underlying visually-promoted sleep in Drosophila. I plan to use the latest fly behavioural genetics and live imaging methods to confirm this finding, and to explore wider molecular and neural mechanisms by which the visual system facilitates sleep.

chen3.jpg2. What is the clock-controlled molecular pathway protecting against neurodegeneration?

A major hallmark of neurodegeneration (e.g., FTD, AD, PD and HD) is the misfolded protein aggregates in affected brains. Protein misfolding leads to ER stress and triggers a signal network called Unfolded Protein Response (UPR). Prolonged ER stress eventually causes neuronal dysfunction. However, it is unclear what underlying molecular mechanisms determine such neurodegenerative processes to target selective brain areas. Intriguingly, data indicates that the presence of the circadian clock may facilitate or inhibit the formation of pathogenic aggregates depending on the types of misfolded protein aggregates.  I plan to use molecular tools including ER stress reporter, Flowcytometry and clock neuron transcriptome to identify the underlying neuroprotective molecular mechanisms.

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