Dr. Zuo’s Lab

University of Virginia Anesthesiology Dr. Zuo's Lab Team

Welcome to Dr. Zuo's Research Lab

University of Virginia Dr. Zuo's Anesthesiology Lab Research on POCD Illustration with a mouse

Pathway to POCD

Dr. Zuo’s Lab began at the University of Virginia (UVA) in 2000. While Dr. Zhiyi Zuo, MD, PhD is the Principle Investigator, he recruits physician researchers from all over the world to come to UVA and collaborate as members of his lab. Dr. Zuo’s team of scientists was the first to demonstrate anesthetics modulate glutamate transporter activity. They discovered these neuronal glutamate transporters may be involved in learning, memory, ischemic brain tolerance and recovery from anesthesia. His body of research identified anesthetics impact the biological functions of glutamate transporters.

In recent years, Dr. Zuo’s Lab focused on understanding postoperative cognitive dysfunction (POCD), an important clinical syndrome attracting great public attention. This syndrome affects 10 to 40% of patients after surgery and is associated with increased mortality and morbidity. A leader in modeling POCD in animals, Dr. Zuo’s lab has identified potential risk factors and mechanisms for the syndrome with the goal to reduce its occurrence. They uncovered the pathway from surgery and anesthesia-induced systemic inflammation, to the microstructural changes in the neurons, which ultimately leads to the learning and memory dysfunction in a delayed phase after surgery. More recently, Dr. Zuo has turned his attention to potentially modifiable factors, such as anesthetic choice and antibiotic use for POCD. He led the only multi-center study published thus far to determine whether the choice of sevoflurane vs. propofol-based anesthesia has an impact on the POCD rate. This paper, published in Anesthesiology generated 17,266 views:

Intravenous versus Volatile Anesthetic Effects on Postoperative Cognition in Elderly Patients Undergoing Laparoscopic Abdominal Surgery: A Multicenter, Randomized Trial

Currently, Dr. Zuo’s scientists evaluate non-pharmacological approaches, such as environmental enrichment and exercise, to reduce POCD. In a very comprehensive study published in Molecular Psychiatry, Dr. Zuo’s group provided strong evidence for the involvement of gut dysbiosis in POCD and the beneficial effects of exercise.

Appropriate exercise level attenuates gut dysbiosis and valeric acid increase to improve neuroplasticity and cognitive function after surgery in mice | Molecular Psychiatry (nature.com)

In addition to the POCD research, Dr. Zuo’s group studies the effects of surgery on bystanders. They found that cage-mates of mice with surgery can have anxious behavior and impairment of learning and memory. If confirmed in humans, this finding may open a new field pertaining to the relatives of patients who undergo surgery. A long-term research goal is to understand the mechanism of ischemic brain injury and identify potential interventions to  reduce it. Ischemic brain injury is the underlying neuropathology for stroke and brain trauma, leading causes of mortality and morbidity nationally and globally. 

Age, Strokes, and Gut Microbiomes: New Insights From Mice

About Dr. Zuo's Lab