Xinzhu Yu's directory photo.

Xinzhu Yu

Assistant Professor

Primary Affiliation

Neurotechnology for Memory and Cognition


Status Affiliate Faculty

Home Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology

Phone 300-3541



  • Biography

    Xinzhu Yu is an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology. Her primary affiliation is Neurotechnology for Memory and Cognition. She was born in Beijing, China and came to the States in 2007 for her Ph.D study with Dr. Yi Zuo at University of California Santa Cruz. Professor Yu has always wanted to understand how the brain works; she started her career with a neurocentric view but by the end of her Ph.D. program, she became fascinated by another non-neuronal cell type, astrocytes. In 2014, she joined Dr. Baljit Khakh's lab at University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) as a postdoc, where she investigated astrocyte functions under health and disease at great depth. During this period, her interests in astrocytes were further shaped and refined. After completing her postdoctoral training, she established her own lab at UIUC in 2020 to continue exploring astrocytes in neural circuits and behavior.


    • B.S., Tsinghua University, Beijing, China

    • M.S., Tsinghua University, Beijing, China

    • Ph.D., University of California Santa Cruz

  • Honors
    • 2019: NIH BRAIN Initiative Principal Investigators Meeting Travel Award, National Institutes of Health

    • 2018 – 2019: Brain Research Institute Postdoctoral Award, University of California Los Angeles

    • 2016 – 2017: American Heart Association Postdoctoral Fellowship, American Heart Association

  • Research

    Research areas:

    • Neurodevelopmental disorders

    • Neuropsychiatric disorders

    • Glia

    Research interests:

    • Synaptic plasticity

    • Learning and memory

    • Neurological and psychiatric disorders

    Our emotions and thoughts are generated and processed by a network of different cell types in the brain, including both neurons and glial cells. As the most abundant glial cells, the "star cells" - astrocytes - were discovered more than a century ago but were only considered to have passive supporting functions to neurons. However, many recent studies have challenged this view and suggested that astrocytes are an integral part of the central nervous system.

    There are two major questions that we are interested in:

    1. What are the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which astrocytes contribute to neural circuit plasticity, motor learning and memory, and the development of neuropsychiatric disorders?

    2. How can we link and predict circuit and behavioral alterations based on astrocyte signaling changes?

    To tackle these questions, we will take a systematic approach with innovative genetic tools, in vivo imaging, electrophysiological recordings, next generation sequencing and computational modeling. We hope that our findings will expand the understanding of astrocyte physiology as well as offer mechanistic insights into new biomarkers for early diagnosis and potential therapeutic treatments for neuropsychiatric disorders.

  • 2022

    • Cho, F. S., Vainchtein, I. D., Voskobiynyk, Y., Morningstar, A. R., Aparicio, F., Higashikubo, B., Ciesielska, A., Broekaart, D. W. M., Anink, J. J., van Vliet, E. A., Yu, X., Khakh, B. S., Aronica, E., Molofsky, A. V., & Paz, J. T. (2022). Enhancing GAT-3 in thalamic astrocytes promotes resilience to brain injury in rodents. Science Translational Medicine, 14(652), [eabj4310].
    • Endo, F., Kasai, A., Soto, J. S., Yu, X., Qu, Z., Hashimoto, H., Gradinaru, V., Kawaguchi, R., & Khakh, B. S. (2022). Molecular basis of astrocyte diversity and morphology across the CNS in health and disease. Science, 378(6619), [eadc9020].
    • Institoris, A., Vandal, M., Peringod, G., Catalano, C., Tran, C. H., Yu, X., Visser, F., Breiteneder, C., Molina, L., Khakh, B. S., Nguyen, M. D., Thompson, R. J., & Gordon, G. R. (2022). Astrocytes amplify neurovascular coupling to sustained activation of neocortex in awake mice. Nature communications, 13(1), [7872].
    • Yu, X. (2022). Hippocampal astrocytes represent navigation space. PLoS biology, 20(3), [e3001568].
    • Yu, X., & Khakh, B. S. (2022). SnapShot: Astrocyte interactions. Cell, 185(1), 220-220.e1.


    • Yu X*, Nagai J* and Khakh BS (2020) Improved tools to study astrocytes. Nature Reviews Neuroscience. 2020 Mar;21(3):121-138. (* Equal contribution)
    • Yu X*, Nagai J*, Marti-Solano M, Soto JS, Coppola G, Babu MM and Khakh BS (2020) Context-specific striatal astrocyte molecular responses are phenotypically exploitable. Neuron. 2020 Oct 9:S0896-6273(20)30745-5. (* Equal contribution)


    • Yu X, Taylor AMW, Nagai J, Golshani P, Evans CJ, Coppola G and Khakh BS (2018) Reducing astrocyte calcium signaling in vivo alters striatal microcircuits and causes repetitive behavior. Neuron. 99(6):1170-1187


    • Hodges JL*, Yu X*, Gilmore A, Bennett H, Tjia M, Perna JF, Chen CC, Li X, Lu J and Zuo Y (2017) Astrocytic contributions to synaptic and learning abnormalities in a mouse model of Fragile X Syndrome. Biological Psychiatry. 82(2): 139-149. (* Equal contribution)


    • Yu X, Wang G, Gilmore A, Yee AX, Li X, Xu T, Smith SJ, Chen L and Zuo Y (2013) Accelerated experience-dependent pruning of cortical synapses in ephrin-A2 knockout mice. Neuron. 80(1):64-71.


    • Fu M, Yu X, Lu J and Zuo Y (2012) Repetitive motor learning induces coordinated formation of clustered dendritic spines in vivo. Nature. 483(7387):92-5.


    • Yu X, Zuo Y (2011) Spine plasticity in the motor cortex. Current Opinion in Neurobiology. 21(1):169-74.


    • Xu T*, Yu X*, Perlik A, Tobin W, Zweig J and Zuo Y (2009) Rapid formation and selective stabilization of synapses for enduring motor memories. Nature. 462(7275):915-9. (* Equal contribution)