Ph.D., Columbia University, 1995
In experimental work with fly, mouse, cell culture, and human postmortem tissue, we are working to uncover mechanisms of neurodegeneration that underlie amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD). We are exploring the possibility that a “reawakening” of transposons -- dormant repetitive sequences in the DNA of certain brain cells -- may be responsible for causing cell death.
Research in Josh Dubnau’s lab is concentrated on two different questions. First, Dubnau and his team are investigating mechanisms of memory using Drosophila as a model system. A second area of research is focused on uncovering mechanisms of neurodegeneration that underlie amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD). Work in the Dubnau lab has suggested a novel hypothesis to explain neurodegeneration in these disorders. They discovered that awakening retrotransposons in the genome of some brain cells might be responsible for causing cell death. Retrotransposons are virus-like repetitive elements that are encoded in the genome and are capable of replicating and inserting into new chromosomal positions. This can lead to DNA damage and cell death by a process known as apoptosis. The lab is investigating this hypothesis for ALS/FTLD using a multidisciplinary approach that includes experimental work with fly, mouse, cell culture, and human postmortem tissue. Computational analyses of genomic data are performed in collaboration with Molly Hammell’s group. If the retrotransposon hypothesis is correct, it will change the trajectory of neurodegeneration research and have obvious clinical impact. Retrotransposon RNAs and proteins are promising new diagnostic markers and potentially important therapeutic targets.
Li, W. and Prazak, L. and Chatterjee, N. and Gruninger, S. and Krug, L. and Theodorou, D. and Dubnau, J. (2013) Activation of transposable elements during aging and neuronal decline in Drosophila. Nature Neuroscience 16pp. 529-531.
Li, W. and Cressy, M. and Qin, H. and Fulga, T. and Van Vactor, D. and Dubnau, J. (2013) MicroRNA-276a Functions in Ellipsoid Body and Mushroom Body Neurons for Naive and Conditioned Olfactory Avoidance in Drosophila. Journal of Neuroscience 33(13) pp. 5821-33.
Li, W. H. and Jin, Y. and Prazak, L. and Hammell, M. and Dubnau, J. (2012) Transposable Elements in TDP-43-Mediated Neurodegenerative Disorders. PLoS ONE 7(9)
Qin, Hongtao and Cressy, Michael and Li, Wanhe and Coravos, Jonathan S and Izzi, Stephanie A and Dubnau, Joshua (2012) Gamma Neurons Mediate Dopaminergic Input during Aversive Olfactory Memory Formation in Drosophila. Current Biology 22(7) pp. 608-614.
Blum, A. L. and Li, W. and Cressy, M. and Dubnau, J. T. (2009) Short- and Long-Term Memory in Drosophila Require cAMP Signaling in Distinct Neuron Types. Current Biology 19(16) pp. 1341-1350 .Additional materials of the author at
CSHL Institutional Repository
CSHL neuroscientists show ’jumping genes’ may contribute to aging-related brain defects
April 7, 2013
Neuroscience research brief: Can you smell that?
March 27, 2013
Storm of ‘awakened’ transposons may cause brain-cell pathologies in ALS, other illnesses