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About Sickkids
About SickKids

Yun Li, PhD

Research Institute
Developmental & Stem Cell Biology

University of Toronto
Assistant Professor
Department of Molecular Genetics

Phone: 416-813-7654 ext. 309083
Email: yun.li@sickkids.ca

Brief Biography

  • Scientist, Developmental & Stem Cell Biology Program, The Hospital for Sick Children, Canada (2017-present)
  • Post-doctoral Fellow, Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA (2009-2017, Advisor: Dr. Rudolf Jaenisch)
  • PhD, Neuroscience Program, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, USA (2002-2009, Advisor: Dr. Luis F. Parada)
  • B.Sc., Biology, Wuhan University, China (1998-2002)

Research Interests

The Li Lab is interested in understanding how the human brain forms, what makes it unique from that of other species, and how disorders like autism impact its development and function. We take the experimental approach of modeling human brain development in the dish, utilizing a combination of pluripotent stem cell technology, genome editing, and three-dimensional organoid cultures. Our current research focuses on investigating the emergence of human-specific neural cell types and cortical features, and studying the molecular mechanisms underlying autism.

External Funding

  • Sharon Francis Institute for Regenerative Medicine (SFIRM)
  • National Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC)
  • Stem Cell Network
  • Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine (OIRM)
  • Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI)
  • Medicine by Design (MbD)


  • 2016 - Bridge to Independence Award, Simons Foundation
  • 2013 - Post-doctoral Fellowship, International Rett Syndrome Foundation
  • 2013 - NARSAD Young Investigator Award, Brain & Behavior Research Foundation
  • 2011 - Post-doctoral Fellowship, Simons Foundation
  • 2009 - Dean's Discretionary Award, University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center
  • 2008 - Young Investigator Award, American Society for Neurochemistry Annual Meeting


Tian A, Muffat J and Li Y (2020) Studying human neurodevelopment and diseases using 3D brain organoids. Journal of Neuroscience 40 (6): 1186-1193.

*Li Y, *Muffat J, *Omer Javed A, *Keys HR, Lungjangwa T, Bosch I, Khan M, Virgilio MC, Gehrke L, Sabatini DM and Jaenisch R (2019) Genome-wide CRISPR screen for Zika virus resistance in human neural cells. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences http://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1900867116 *Co-first authors.

*Omer Javed A, *Li Y, *Muffat J, Su K, Cohen MA, Lungjangwa T, Aubourg P, Cheeseman IM, and Jaenisch R (2018) Microcephaly modeling of kinetochore mutation reveals a brain-specific phenotype. Cell Reports 25: 368-382. *Co-first authors.

*Muffat J, *Li Y, *Omer A, Durbin A, Bosch I, Bakiasi G, Gehrke L, and Jaenisch R (2018) Human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived glial cells and neural progenitors display divergent responses to Zika and Dengue infections. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 115 (27): 7117-7122. *Co-first authors.

Liu XS, Wu H, Krzisch M, Wu X, Graef J, Muffat J, Hnisz D, Li CH, Yuan B, Xu C, Li Y, Vershkov D, Cacace A, Young RA, and Jaenisch R (2018). Rescue of Fragile X syndrome neurons by DNA methylation editing of the FMR1 gene. Cell 173: 1-14.

Mellios N, Feldman DA, Sheridan SD, Ip J, Kwok S, Amoah SK, Rosen B, Rodriguez BA, Crawford B, Swaminathan R, Chou S, Li Y, Ziats M, Ernst C, Jaenisch R, Haggerty SJ, and Sur M (2017). MECP2-regulated miRNAs control early human neurogenesis through differential effects on ERK and AKT signaling. Molecular Psychiatry doi:10.1038/mp.2017.86.

*Li Y, *Muffat J, Omer A, Bosch I, Lancaster M, Sur M, Gehrke L, Knoblich J, and Jaenisch R (2016) Induction of expansion and folding in human cerebral organoids. Cell Stem Cell 20: 385-396. *Co-first authors.

*Muffat J, *Li Y, and Jaenisch R (2016) CNS disease models with human pluripotent stem cells in the CRISPR age. Current Opinion in Cell Biology 43:96-103. *Co-first authors.

*Muffat J, *Li Y, Yuan B, Mitalipova M, Omer A, Corcoran S, Bakiasi G, Tsai LH, Aubourg P, Ransohoff RM, and Jaenisch R (2016) Efficient derivation of microglia-like cells from human pluripotent stem cells. Nature Medicine 22(11): 1358-1367. *Co-first authors.

Li Y, Wang H, Muffat J, Cheng AW, Orlando DA, Loven J, Kwok S, Feldman DA, Bateup HS, Gao Q, Hockemeyer D, Mitalipova M, Lewis CA, Vander Heiden MG, Sur M, Young RA, and Jaenisch R (2013) Global transcriptional and translational repression in human-embryonic-stem-cell-derived Rett Syndrome neurons. Cell Stem Cell 13(4): 446-458.

Li Y, Yui D, Luikart BW, McKay R, Li Y, Rubenstein JL, and Parada LF (2012) Conditional ablation of brain-derived neurotrophic factor-TrkB signaling impairs striatal neuron development. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109(38): 15491-6.

Sanchez-Ortiz E, Yui D, Song D, Li Y, Rubenstein JL, Reichardt LF, and Parada LF (2012) TrkA gene ablation in basal forebrain results in dysfunction of the cholinergic circuitry. Journal of Neuroscience 32, 4065-4079.

#Li Y, Li Y, McKay, RM, Riethmacher D, and #Parada LF (2012). Neurofibromin modulates adult hippocampal neurogenesis and behavioral effects of antidepressants. Journal of Neuroscience 32, 3529-3539. PMC3511887. #Co-corresponding authors.

Luikart, BW, Bensen AL, Washburn EK, Perederiy JV, Su KG, Li Y, Kernie SG, Parada LF, and Westbrook GL (2011) miR-132 mediates the integration of newborn neurons into the adult dentate gyrus. PLoS One 6(5): e19077.

*Choi SH, and *Li Y (2011) Elevated levels of BMP6 impair neurogenesis in Alzheimer’s disease. Journal of Neuroscience 31(2): 371. *Co-first authors.

Choi SH, Li Y, Parada LF, and Sisodia SS (2010). Regulation of hippocampal progenitor cell survival, proliferation and dendritic development by BDNF. Molecular Neurodegeneration 4, 52.

Li Y, Luikart BW, Birnbaum S, Chen J, Kwon CH, Kernie SG, Bassel-Duby R, and Parada LF (2008). TrkB regulates hippocampal neurogenesis and governs sensitivity to antidepressive treatment. Neuron 59, 399-412.

*Lush ME, *Li Y, Kwon CH, Chen J, and Parada LF (2008). Neurofibromin is required for barrel formation in the mouse somatosensory cortex. Journal of Neuroscience 28, 1580-1587. *Co-first authors.