Hwai-Jong (HJ) Cheng

image of Hwai-Jong (HJ) Cheng



Center for Neuroscience
Pathology - Medicine
Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior

Offices and Labs

1515 Newton Court / Room 604E
(530) 752-5323
1515 Newton Court / Room 603
(530) 754-4159


1995 PhD (Cell and Developmental Biology) Harvard University
1989 MD (Medicine) National Taiwan University

Research Interests

We are interested in how mature neural circuits are formed. We have used model organisms such as mouse, C. elegans, and ferret to study how the axonal connections are refined throughout development. These approaches allow us to address basic issues regarding axon refinement at molecular, cellular and systems level.



Pharmacia Biotech & Science Prize for Young Scientists in Molecular Biology -1996
Howard Hughes Medical Institute Physician Postdoctoral Fellow - 1997
Whitehall Foundation Award - 2003
Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Award - 2004
Klingenstein Fellowship Award - 2004
Faculty Service Award, Neuroscience Graduate Group, UC Davis - 2012
UC Davis Academic Advising Award – Outstanding Faculty Advisor - 2015

Department and Center Affiliations

Center for Neuroscience
Department of Neurobiology, Physiology, & Behavior (College of Biological Sciences)
Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine (School of Medicine)


Society for Neuroscience

CBS Grad Group Affiliations

Biochemistry, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology

Specialties / Focus

Biochemistry, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology
  • Cell and Developmental Biology
  • Development
  • Signal Transduction and Gene Regulation


Cheng Lab website
  • Julie Luu (Postdoctoral fellow)
  • Arash Ng (Postdoctoral fellow)
  • Lindsay Cameron (Junior specialist)
  • Melanie Yoshihara (Junior specialist)
  • Atrin Toussi (undergraduate assistant)
  • Ana Marija Sola (undergraduate assistant)

Teaching Interests

Developmental neurobiology
Human brain and disease


NPB 12 Human Brain and Disease (Fall)
NPB 100 Neurobiology (Fall)
NSC 224AB Molecular and Development Neuroscience (Spring)


5/12/2011 10:10:39 AM
  • Davis, Z.W., Chapman, B., and Cheng, H.-J..  Increasing spontaneous retinal activity before eye opening accelerates the development of geniculate receptive fields. J. Neurosci. (In press) (2015).

  • Failor, S., Chapman, B., and Cheng, H.-J..  Retinal waves regulate afferent terminal targeting in the early visual pathway. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 112: E2957-E2966 (2015).

  • Davis, Z.W., Sun, C., Derieg, B., Chapman, B., and Cheng, H.-J..  Epibatidine blocks eye-Specific segregation in ferret dorsal lateral geniculate nucleus during stage III retinal waves.  PLoS One 10(3): e0118783 (2015).

  • Speer, C.M., Sun, C., Liets, L.C., Stafford, B.K., Chapman, B. and Cheng, H.-J..  Eye-specific retinogeniculate segregation proceeds normally following disruption of patterned spontaneous retinal activity.  Neural Development 9:25 (2014).

  • Liu, W.-W., Chen, S.-Y., Cheng, C.-H., Cheng, H.-J.* and Huang, P.-H.*.  Blm-s, a BH3-only protein enriched in postmitotic immature neurons, is transcriptionally upregulated by p53 during DNA damage.  Cell Reports 9: 166-79 (2014). (*Co-corresponding authors)

  • Tseng, C.-H., Murray, K. D., Jou, M.-F., Hsu, S.-M., Cheng, H.-J. and Huang, P.-H.. Sema3E/Plexin-D1 mediated epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition in ovarian endometrioid cancer. PLoS One 6(4):e19396. (2011)
  • Chen, S.-Y., Huang, P.-H. and Cheng, H.-J.. Disrupted-in-Schizophrenia 1-mediated axon guidance involves TRIO-RAC-PAK small GTPase pathway signaling. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 108: 5861-5866 (2011).
  • Cheng, T.-W., Liu, X.-B., Faulkner, R. L., Stephan, A. H., Barres, B. A., Huberman, A. D., and Cheng H.-J.. Emergence of lamina-specific retinal ganglion cell connectivity by axon arbor retraction and synapse elimination. J. Neurosci. 30:16376-16382 (2010).
  • Vanderhaeghen, P. and Cheng, H.-J.. Guidance molecules in axon pruning and cell death. Cold Spring Harb. Perspect. Biol. 2:a001859 (2010)
  • Chen, S.-Y. and Cheng, H.-J.. Functions of axon guidance molecules in synapse formation. Curr. Opin. Neurobiol. 19:471-478 (2009)
  • Maro, G.S., Shen, K., and Cheng, H.-J.. Deal breaker: semaphorin and specificity in the spinal stretch reflex circuit. Neuron 63:8-11 (2009)
  • Lucanic, M., and Cheng, H.-J.. A RAC/CDC-42 independent GIT/PIX/PAK signaling pathway mediates cell migration in C. elegans. PLoS Genetics 4(11): e1000269 (2008)
  • Schwarz, Q., Waimey, K.E., Golding, M., Takamatsu, H., Kumanogoh, A., Fujisawa, H., Cheng, H.-J., and Ruhrberg, C.. Plexin A3 and plexin A4 convey semaphorin signals during facial nerve development. Developmental Biology 324: 1-9 (2008)
  • Faulkner, R. L., Jang, M.-H., Liu, X.-B., Duan, X., Sailor, K. A., Kim, J. Y., Ge, S., Jones, E. G., Ming, G.-L., Song, H., and Cheng, H.-J.. Development of hippocampal mossy fiber synaptic outputs by new neurons in the adult brain. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 105:14157- 14162 (2008)
  • Faulkner, R. L., Low, L. K., Liu, X.-B., Coble, J., Jones, E. G., and Cheng, H.-J.. Dorsal turning of motor corticospinal axons at the pyramidal decussation requires plexin signaling. Neural Development 3:21 (2008)
  • Low, L. K., Liu, X.-B., Faulkner, R. L., Coble, J., and Cheng, H.-J.. Plexin signaling selectively regulates the stereotyped pruning of corticospinal axons from visual cortex. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 105:8136-8141 (2008)
  • Waimey, K.E., Huang, P.-H., Chen, M. and Cheng, H.-J. Plexin-A3 and plexin-A4 restrict the migration of sympathetic neurons but not their neural crest precursors. Developmental Biology 315:448-458 (2008)
  • Duan, X., Chang, J. H., Ge, S., Faulkner, R. L., Kim, J. Y., Kitabatake, Y., Liu, X.-b., Yang C.-H., Jordan, J. D., Ma, D. K., Liu, C. Y., Ganesan, S., Cheng, H.-J., Ming, G.-l., Lu, B., and Song, H. Disrupted-In-Schizophrenia 1 regulates integration of newly generated neurons in the adult brain. Cell 130:1146-1158 (2007)
  • Chung, L., Yang, T.-L., Huang, H.-R., Hsu, S.-M., Cheng, H.-J. *, and Huang, P.-H. *. Semaphorin signaling facilitates cleft formation in the developing salivary gland. Development 134:2935-2945 (2007) (*co-senior authors)
  • Faulkner, R. L., Low, L. K. and Cheng, H.-J.. Axonal pruning in the developing vertebrate hippocampus. Developmental Neuroscience 29:6-13 (2007)
  • Lucanic, M., Kiley, M., Ashcroft, N., LEtoile, N. and Cheng H.-J.. The C. elegans p21 activated kinases are differentially required for UNC-6/Netrin mediated commissural motor axon guidance. Development 133:4549-4559 (2006)
  • Waimey, K. E. and Cheng, H.-J.. Axon pruning and synaptic development: how are they per-plexin? The Neuroscientist 12:398-409 (2006)
  • Low, L. K. and Cheng, H.-J.. Axon pruning: an essential step underlying the developmental plasticity of neuronal connections. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B 361:1531-1544 (2006)
  • Liu, X.-B., Low, L. K., Jones, E. G., and Cheng, H.-J.. Stereotyped Axon Pruning via Plexin Signaling is Associated with Synaptic Complex Elimination in the Hippocampus. J. Neurosci. 25:9124-9134 (2005)
  • Low, L. K., and Cheng, H.-J.. A little nip and tuck: axon refinement during development and axonal injury. Curr. Opin. Neurobiol. 15:549-556 (2005)
  • Yaron, A, , Huang, P.-H., Cheng, H.-J.*, and Tessier-Lavigne, M.*. Differential requirement for Plexin-A3 and -A4 in mediating responses of sensory and sympathetic neurons to distinct class 3 Semaphorins. Neuron 45:513-523 (2005) (*co-senior authors)
  • Bagri, A. *, Cheng, H.-J. *, Yaron, A., Pleasure, S. J., and Tessier-Lavigne, M.. Stereotyped pruning of long hippocampal axon branches triggered by retraction inducers of the Semaphorin family. Cell 113: 285-299. (2003) (*equal contributions)
  • Huang, X., Cheng, H.-J. Tessier-Lavigne, M., Jin, Y.. Max-1, a novel PH/Myth4/FERM domain cytoplasmic protein implicated in netrin-mediated axon repulsion. Neuron 34: 563-76 (2002)
  • Cheng, H.-J.*, Bagri, A.*, Yaron, A., Stein, E., Pleasure, S. J., and Tessier-Lavigne, M.. Plexin-A3 Mediates Semaphorin Signaling and Regulates the Development of Hippocampal Axonal Projections. Neuron 32:249-63. (2001) (*equal contributions)
  • Cheng, H.-J. and Flanagan, J. G.. Cloning and characterization of RTK ligands using receptor-alkaline phosphatase fusion proteins. Methods Mol. Biol. 124: 313-34. (2001)
  • Nakamoto, M.*, Cheng, H.-J.*, Friedman, G. C., McLaughlin, T., Hansen, M. J., Yoon, C. H., O'Leary, D. D. M. and Flanagan, J. G.. Topographically specific effects of ELF-1 on retinal axon guidance in vitro and retinal axon mapping in vivo. Cell 86:755-766 . (1996) (*equal contributions)
  • Cheng, H.-J., Nakamoto, M., Bergemann, A. D. and Flanagan, J. G.. Complementary gradients in expression and binding of ELF-1 and Mek4 in development of the topographic retinotectal projection map. Cell 82:371-381. (1995)
  • Cheng, H.-J. and Flanagan. J.G.. Identification and cloning of ELF-1, a developmentally-expressed ligand for the Mek4 and Sek receptor tyrosine kinases. Cell 79:157-168. (1994)