Hongjun Song, Ph.D.

Perelman Professor of Neuroscience

University of Pennsylvania
The Perelman School of Medicine
Department of Neuroscience
105 Clinical Research Building
415 Curie Boulevard
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Office: 215-573-2449

Mechanisms regulating adult hippocampal neural stem cells and neurogenesis.
Adult hippocampal neurogenesis reflects a remarkable form of structural plasticity in the mature mammalian brain. Fully characterizing this phenomenon could have far-reaching implications for understanding hippocampal function and revealing fundamental properties of neural development and the regenerative capacity of the central nervous system. Over the past 14 years, my laboratory has systemically investigated adult hippocampal neurogenesis at the molecular, cellular, and circuit levels and reported a number of key findings that have influenced the field. Via genetic clonal analysis, we conclusively demonstrated, for the first time, the existence of bona fide neural stem cells in the adult mammalian hippocampus, capable of both self-renewal and multipotent fate specification of progeny (Bonaguidi et al., Cell 2011). We also revealed how neural activity and experience can regulate the behavior of these stem cells (Song et al., Nature 2012; Jang et al. Cell Stem Cell 2013). We provided the first detailed characterization of newborn neuron integration into the existing neuronal circuitry and its underlying molecular, cellular and circuitry mechanisms (Ge et al., Nature 2006; Faulkner et al. PNAS 2009; Kang et al. Neuron 2011; Kim et al. Cell 2012; Sun et al. J Neurosci. 2013; Song et al. Nat. Neurosci. 2013). In collaboration with Dr. Guo-li Ming, we have discovered critical roles of DISC1, a psychiatric disorder risk gene, in regulating the development of newborn neurons during adult hippocampal neurogenesis (Duan et al. Cell 2007; Faulkner et al. PNAS 2008, Kim et al Neuron 2009; Kim et al. Cell 2012; Zhou et al. Neuron 2013). We discovered novel circuitry mechanisms whereby local neural activity influences the proliferation and development of newborn neurons in the hippocampus (Ma et al., Science 2009; Song et al., Nature 2012; Song et al., Nat Neurosci 2013).

Duan, X., Chang, J.H., Ge, S-y., 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-j.* (2007). Disrupted-In-Schizophrenia 1 regulates integration of new neurons in the adult brain. Cell 130, 1146-1158.
Bonaguidi, M.A., Wheeler, M., Shapiro, J.S., Stadel, R., Sun, G.J., Ming, G-l.*, and Song, H*. (2011). In vivo clonal analysis reveals self-renew and multipotent adult neural stem cell characteristics. Cell 145, 1142-55.
Song, J., Zhong, C., Bonaguidi, M.A., Sun, G.J., Hsu1, D., Gu, Y., Meletis, K., Huang, Z.J., Ge, S., Enikolopov, G., Deisseroth, K., Luscher, B., Christian, K., Ming, G-l., and Song, H. (2012). Neuronal circuitry mechanism regulating adult quiescent neural stem cell fate decision. Nature 489, 150-4.
Sun, G.J., Zhou, Y., Ito, S., Bonaguidi, M.A., Stein-O’Brien, G., Kawasaki, N., Modak, N., Zhu, Y., Ming, G-l., and Song, H. (2015). Latent tri-lineage potential of adult neural stem cells in the hippocampus revealed by Nf1 inactivation. Nature Neuroscience 18, 1722-4.

Neuroepigenetics and Neuroepitranscriptomics. Contrary to the long-held dogma that DNA methylation is a stable epigenetic mark in post-mitotic neurons, it is now recognized to be a robust form of plasticity in the adult nervous system. We have made significant contributions to the current understanding of epigenetic DNA modifications in the adult nervous system. My laboratory identified the first molecular mechanism regulating active DNA demethylation in mature neurons in vivo (Ma et al. Science 2009) and subsequently delineated molecular pathways mediating this process (Guo et al. Cell 2011). More recently, we showed that the neuronal DNA demethylation pathway plays fundamental roles in neuronal function, including regulation of basal levels of synaptic transmission and homeostatic synaptic plasticity (Yu et al. Nat. Neurosci. 2015). My laboratory has established a pipeline for high-throughput sequencing analysis, including RNA-seq, Chip-seq, Bisulfite-seq, ATAC-seq and single-cell RNA-seq and we have designed custom software programs for bioinformatic analyses. We published the first single-base resolution genome-wide DNA methylation profiles in neurons in vivo and showed large scale neuronal activity-induced dynamic methylation changes (Guo et al. Nat. Neurosci, 2011). Via single-base methylome analysis, we also demonstrated the presence of prominent nonCpG methylation in mature neurons in vivo and identified MeCP2 as the first nonCpG DNA methylation binding protein in the field (Guo et al. Nat. Neurosci. 2014). More recently, we have started to explore how methylation of mRNA can affect neurogenesis, axon regeneration and plasticity (Yoon et al. Cell 2017; Weng et al. Neuron 2018).

Ma, D.K., Jang, M.H., Guo, J.U., Kitabatake, Y., Chang, M.L., Pow-Anpongkul, N., Flavell, R.A., Lu, B., Ming, G.L., and Song, H-j. (2009). Neuronal activity-induced Gadd45b promotes epigenetic DNA demethylation and adult neurogenesis. Science 323, 1074-7.
Guo, J.U., Su, Y., Zhong, C., Ming, G.L., and Song, H. (2011). Hydroxylation of 5-methylcytosine by TET1 promotes active DNA demethylation in the adult brain. Cell 145, 423-34.
Yu, H., Su, Y., Shin, J., Zhong, C., Guo, J.U., Weng, Y-l., Gao, F., Geschwind, D.H., Coppola, G., Ming, G-l., and Song, H. (2015). Tet3 regulates synaptic transmission and homeostatic plasticity via DNA oxidation and repair. Nature Neuroscience 18, 836-843.
Yoon, K.J., Ringeling, F.R., Vissers, C., Jacob, F., Pokrass, M., Jimenez-Cyrus, D., Su, Y., Kim, N.S., Zhu, Y., Zheng, L., Kim, S., Wang, X., Doré, L.C., Jin, P., Regot, S., Zhuang, X., Canzar, S., He, C., Ming, G.L., and Song, H. (2017). Temporal control of mammalian cortical neurogenesis by m6A methylation. Cell 171(4):877-889.

Single-cell biology. A complete understanding of the structure and function of neural systems will require integrated analyses at multiple levels. A daunting obstacles to reaching this goal is the technical challenge of characterizing the behavior of single cells in vivo. Many neural processes can be described at the population level, but there are several domains where it is critical to identify molecular and functional properties at the single cell level. My laboratory has developed a “single cell genetic” approach to manipulate target genes in newborn neurons using retroviruses that led to a number of critical discoveries (Ge et al. Nature 2006; Duan et al, Cell 2007; Kim et al. Neuron 2009; Kang et al. Neuron 2011; Kim et al. Cell 2011; Jang et al. Cell Stem Cell 2013; Song et al. Nat. Neurosci. 2013). Our identification of bona fide neural stem cells in the adult brain required clonal analysis to determine whether radial glial-like cells were capable of both self-renewal and giving rise to multiple cell types, thus settling a debate in the field over whether neurons and glia were generated from lineage-restricted progenitors, as opposed to true stem cells (Bonaguidi et al. Cell 2011). To visualize dendritic and axonal growth over development, we devised a new strategy to allow us to reconstruct complete cellular processes of individual cells, revealing a stereotyped pattern of axonal targeting that further suggests the existence of guidance cues in the adult hippocampus (Sun et al., J Neurosci 2013). We have recent developed a single-cell RNA-seq technology and a bioinformatics pipeline to investigate transcriptomes of hundreds to thousands of heterogeneous cell types (Shin et al. Cell Stem Cell, 2015).

Ge, S-y., Goh. E.L.K., Sailor, K.A., Kitabatake, Y., Ming, G-l*. and Song, H-j*. (2006). GABA regulates synaptic integration of newly generated neurons in the adult brain. Nature 439, 589-593.
Bonaguidi, M.A., Wheeler, M., Shapiro, J.S., Stadel, R., Sun, G.J., Ming, G-l.*, and Song, H*. (2011). In vivo clonal analysis reveals self-renew and multipotent adult neural stem cell characteristics. Cell 145, 1142-55.
Jang, M., Bonaguidi, M.A., Kitabatake, Y., Sun, J., Song, J., Kang, E., Jun, H., Zhong, C., Su, Y., Guo, J.U., Wang, M.X., Sailor, K.A., Kim, J.Y., Gao, Y., Christian, K.M., Ming, G-l., and Song, H. (2013). Secreted frizzled-related protein 3 regulates activity-dependent adult hippocampal neurogenesis. Cell Stem Cell 12, 215-23.
Shin, J., Berg, D.A., Zhu, Y., Shin, J.Y., Song, J., Bonaguidi, M.A., Enikolopov, G., Nauen, D.W., Christian, K.M., Ming, G-l., and Song, H. (2015). Single-cell RNA-seq with Waterfall reveals molecular cascades underlying adult neurogenesis. Cell Stem Cell 17, 360-72.

Research Interest

Research in Dr. Hongjun Song’s laboratory focuses on two core topics: (1) neural stem cell regulation and neurogenesis in the developing and adult mammalian brain and how these processes affect neural function; (2) epigenetic and epitranscriptomic mechanisms and their functions in the mammalian nervous system. The lab is also interested in addressing how dysfunction of these mechanisms may be involved in brain disorders.

Lab Members

AngelinaAngelucciLab TechnicianAngelina.Angelucci@pennmedicine.upenn.edu
MarikoBennettVisiting Clinical Fellowbennettm2@email.chop.edu
AllisonBondResearch Associateambond1@pennmedicine.upenn.edu
KimberlyChristianResearch Assistant Professorkchristi@pennmedicine.upenn.edu
AlanGarciaLab Techniciangarciaal@sas.upenn.edu
DennisseJimenez-CyrusGraduate Studentjimenden@pennmedicine.upenn.edu
StephanieJimenez TemmePostdocstemme@pennmedicine.upenn.edu
Sang HoonKimPostdocskim1@pennmedicine.upenn.edu
EmmaLaNoceLab Manageremma.lanoce@pennmedicine.upenn.edu
YijingSuResearch Asssitant Professoryijingsu@pennmedicine.upenn.edu
BrianTemsamritLab Managerbrian.temsamrit@pennmedicine.upenn.edu
DanielZhangGraduate Studentdaniel.zhang@uphs.upenn.edu