J. Julius Zhu

Zhu, J. Julius

Primary Appointment

Professor, Pharmacology


  • BS, Physiology & Biophysics, Peking University
  • MS, Neurobiology & Behavior, Shanghai Brain Research Institute
  • PhD, Neuroscience, University of Wisconsin Medical School
  • Postdoc, Neuroscience, Max-Planck-Institut for Medical Research
  • Postdoc, Neuroscience, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
  • Sabbatical, Neuroscience, Norwegian University of Science & Technology

Contact Information

PO Box 800735
1340 Jefferson Park Ave., Pinn Hall, Room 5025C
Charlottesville, VA 22908
Telephone: 434-243-9246
Fax: 434-982-3878

Research Disciplines

Biotechnology, Molecular Biology, Molecular Pharmacology, Neuroscience, Translational Science

Research Interests

Neural Circuits in Healthy and Diseased Brains

Research Description

My students and I are interested in central neural circuits and synapses. We enjoy developing new experimental approaches that combine cutting-edge techniques, including rapid recombinant DNA delivery and replacement, multiple whole-cell recordings, genetically encoded sensors, single- and two-photon microscopy-based optogenetics and imaging, single-molecule force spectroscopy and immunoelectron microscopy. These technologies allow us to decipher the molecular and cellular regulations (e.g., nanoscale Ras/MAPK signaling) of synapses in neural circuits, as well as the organization and functions (e.g., salience selection) of neural circuits (Wang G, Wyskiel D, et al. (2015) Nature Protocols 10:397-412). Genetic defects of many signaling molecules are linked to a number of cognitive disorders, e.g., Akt/PKB and calcineurin with schizophrenia, BRaf with cardio-facio-cutaneous syndrome, Brag/IQSec with nonsyndromic X-linked mental retardation, CaMKII with Angelman syndrome, H-Ras with Costello syndrome, p38MAPK and JNK with Alzheimer's disease, PI3K with fragile X syndrome, PTEN with autism, Cowden and Bannayan-Riley-Ruvalcaba syndromes, RasGap NF1 with neurofibromatosis, Rsk with Coffin-Lowry syndrome and X-linked mental retardation, SHP-2 with Noonan syndrome, and tuberin with tuberous sclerosis. Altered interneuronal function is a common mechanism contributing to various neurological, mental and psychiatric disorders, including autisms, epilepsy, depression, Huntington’s disease, neurofibromatosis, schizophrenia, Tourette’s syndrome and trauma (Stornetta and Zhu, Neuroscientist 17: 54-78). Therefore, the findings from our research should guide the future development of treatments for these insidious diseases.

Selected Publications First-authored by Undergraduate/High School Students:

Zhu PK, Zheng WS, Zhang P, Jing M, Borden PM, Ali F, Guo K-M, Feng J, Marvin JS, Wang Y, Wan J, Gan J, Kwan AC, Lin L, Looger LL, Li Y and Zhang Y (2020) Nanoscopic visualization of restricted non-volume cholinergic and monoaminergic transmissions. Nano Letters 20:4073-83.

Sheng Y, Zhang L, Su S, Tsai LH and Zhu JJ (2016) Cdk5 is a new rapid homeostatic transmission regulator capable of inducing the early Alzheimer-like synaptic pathology. Cerebral Cortex 26:2937-51.

Lee AJ, Wang G, Jiang X, Johnson SM, Hoang ET, Lante F, Stornetta RL, Beenhakker MP, Shen Y and Zhu JJ (2015) Canonical organization of layer 1 neuron-led cortical inhibitory and disinhibitory interneuronal circuits. Cerebral Cortex 25:2114-26.

Selected Publications First-authored by Graduate Students:

Huang L, Chen Y, Jin S, Lin L, Duan S, Si K, Gong W and Zhu JJ (2021) Organizational principles of amygdalar input-output neuronal circuits. Molecular Psychiatry ePub ahead of print.

Chen J, Cho KE, Skwarzynska D, Clancy S, Conley NJ, Clinton SM, Li X, Lin L and Zhu JJ (2021) The property-based practical applications and solutions of genetically encoded acetylcholine and monoamine sensors. Journal of Neuroscience 41:2318-28.

Kielland A, Bochorishvili G, Corson J, Zhang L, Rosin DL, Heggelund P and Zhu JJ (2009) Activity patterns govern synapse-specific AMPA-R trafficking between deliverable and synaptic pools. Neuron 62:84-101.

McCormack SG, Stornetta RL and Zhu JJ (2006) Synaptic AMPA receptor exchange maintains bidirectional plasticity. Neuron 50:75-88.

Selected Publications Authored by PI:

Zhu JJ (2009) Activity level-dependent synapse-specific AMPA receptor trafficking regulates transmission kinetics. J Neurosci 29:6320-35.

Zhu JJ (2000) Maturation of layer 5 neocortical pyramidal neurons: amplifying salient layer 1 and layer 4 inputs by Ca2+ action potentials in adult rat tuft dendrites. J Physiol (Lond) 526:571-87.

On April 25, 2017, the lab was featured in NBC29 nightly news ( and other media outlets.

On September 12, 2017, the lab was featured in CBS19 nightly news ( and other media outlets.

On July 5, 2018, the lab was featured in CBS19 nightly news (, on WINA News Radio 98.9FM and other media outlets.

On August 23, 2018, the lab was featured in NBC29 nightly news (, on WCVE Community Idea Stations and other media outlets.

On March 10, 2021, the lab was featured in NBC29 nightly news (, on WINA News Radio 98.9FM and other media outlets.

Postdoctoral research associate, graduate and undergraduate student position available, please contact:

Selected Publications