Hwai-Jong (HJ) Cheng

Hwai-Jong (HJ) Cheng

Position Title
Neuroscience Graduate Group Chair; Professor

Department of Neurobiology, Physiology and Behavior, College of Biological Sciences
Center for Neuroscience
Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, School of Medicine

1515 Newton Court / Room 612G

Profile Introduction

Axon Guidance and Axon Refinement

Research Interests

Axon Guidance and Axon Refinement

We are interested in how mature neural circuits are formed. We have used model organisms such as mouse, C. elegans, and ferret to study how the axonal connections are refined throughout development. These approaches allow us to address basic issues regarding axon refinement at molecular, cellular and systems level. Our current research focus is to address how newborn neurons are integrated into mature circuits in adult and aged brain.

Grad Group Affiliations

  • Biochemistry, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology
  • Neuroscience

Specialties / Focus

  • Cell Biology
  • Developmental Biology
  • Molecular Genetics
  • Neurobiology
  • Signal Transduction
  • Stem Cell Biology
  • Vision


  • NPB 12 Human Brain and Disease, Fall
  • NPB 100 Neurobiology, Fall
  • NSC 224AB Molecular and Development Neuroscience, Spring
  • NPB 110B Neurobiology Foundations, Winter
  • NPB 172 Map Formation, Spring


  • Cheng Lab http://hwaijongcheng.faculty.ucdavis.edu
    • Julie Luu (Postdoctoral fellow)
    • Poommaree Namchaiw (Postdoctoral fellow)
    • Yihan Jin (Junior specialist)
    • Karl Murray (Collaborator)

Honors and Awards

  • Pharmacia Biotech and Science Prize for Young Scientists in Molecular Biology -1996
  • Howard Hughes Medical Institute Physician Postdoctoral Fellow - 1997
  • Whitehall Foundation Award - 2003
  • Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Award - 2004
  • Klingenstein Fellowship Award - 2004
  • Faculty Service Award, Neuroscience Graduate Group, UC Davis - 2012
  • UC Davis Academic Advising Award – Outstanding Faculty Advisor - 2015

    Professional Societies

    • Society for Neuroscience


    • 1989 MD (Medicine) National Taiwan University
    • 1995 PhD (Cell and Developmental Biology) Harvard University


    Chen, S.-Y., Ho, C.-T., Liu, W.-W., Lucanic, M., Shih, H.-M., Huang, P.-H. and Cheng, H.-J..  Regulation of axon repulsion by MAX-1 SUMOylation and AP-3.  Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA115: E8236-E8245 (2018). 

    Failor, S., Ng, A., and Cheng, H.-J..  Monocular enucleation alters retinal waves in the surviving eye.  Neural Development13:4 (2018).

    Davis, Z.W., Chapman, B., and Cheng, H.-J..  Increasing spontaneous retinal activity before eye opening accelerates the development of geniculate receptive fields. J. Neurosci. 35:14612-14623 (2015).

    Failor, S., Chapman, B., and Cheng, H.-J..  Retinal waves regulate afferent terminal targeting in the early visual pathway. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 112: E2957-E2966 (2015).

    Liu, W.-W., Chen, S.-Y., Cheng, C.-H., Cheng, H.-J.* and Huang, P.-H.*.  Blm-s, a BH3-only protein enriched in postmitotic immature neurons, is transcriptionally upregulated by p53 during DNA damage.  Cell Reports 9: 166-79 (2014). (*Co-corresponding authors)

    Chen, S.-Y., Huang, P.-H. and Cheng, H.-J.. Disrupted-in-Schizophrenia 1-mediated axon guidance involves TRIO-RAC-PAK small GTPase pathway signaling. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 108: 5861-5866 (2011).

    Cheng, T.-W., Liu, X.-B., Faulkner, R. L., Stephan, A. H., Barres, B. A., Huberman, A. D., and Cheng H.-J.. Emergence of lamina-specific retinal ganglion cell connectivity by axon arbor retraction and synapse elimination. J. Neurosci. 30:16376-16382 (2010).

    Vanderhaeghen, P. and Cheng, H.-J.. Guidance molecules in axon pruning and cell death. Cold Spring Harb. Perspect. Biol. 2:a001859 (2010)

    Faulkner, R. L., Jang, M.-H., Liu, X.-B., Duan, X., Sailor, K. A., Kim, J. Y., Ge, S., Jones, E. G., Ming, G.-L., Song, H., and Cheng, H.-J.. Development of hippocampal mossy fiber synaptic outputs by new neurons in the adult brain. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 105:14157- 14162 (2008)

    Low, L. K., Liu, X.-B., Faulkner, R. L., Coble, J., and Cheng, H.-J.. Plexin signaling selectively regulates the stereotyped pruning of corticospinal axons from visual cortex. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 105:8136-8141 (2008)

    Waimey, K.E., Huang, P.-H., Chen, M. and Cheng, H.-J. Plexin-A3 and plexin-A4 restrict the migration of sympathetic neurons but not their neural crest precursors. Developmental Biology 315:448-458 (2008)

    Lucanic, M., Kiley, M., Ashcroft, N., LEtoile, N. and Cheng H.-J.. The C. elegans p21 activated kinases are differentially required for UNC-6/Netrin mediated commissural motor axon guidance. Development 133:4549-4559 (2006)

    Liu, X.-B., Low, L. K., Jones, E. G., and Cheng, H.-J.. Stereotyped Axon Pruning via Plexin Signaling is Associated with Synaptic Complex Elimination in the Hippocampus. J. Neurosci. 25:9124-9134 (2005)

    Yaron, A, , Huang, P.-H., Cheng, H.-J.*, and Tessier-Lavigne, M.*. Differential requirement for Plexin-A3 and -A4 in mediating responses of sensory and sympathetic neurons to distinct class 3 Semaphorins. Neuron 45:513-523 (2005) (*co-senior authors)

    Bagri, A. *, Cheng, H.-J. *, Yaron, A., Pleasure, S. J., and Tessier-Lavigne, M.. Stereotyped pruning of long hippocampal axon branches triggered by retraction inducers of the Semaphorin family. Cell 113: 285-299. (2003) (*equal contributions)

    Cheng, H.-J.*, Bagri, A.*, Yaron, A., Stein, E., Pleasure, S. J., and Tessier-Lavigne, M.. Plexin-A3 Mediates Semaphorin Signaling and Regulates the Development of Hippocampal Axonal Projections. Neuron 32:249-63. (2001) (*equal contributions)

    Nakamoto, M.*, Cheng, H.-J.*, Friedman, G. C., McLaughlin, T., Hansen, M. J., Yoon, C. H., O'Leary, D. D. M. and Flanagan, J. G.. Topographically specific effects of ELF-1 on retinal axon guidance in vitro and retinal axon mapping in vivo. Cell 86:755-766 . (1996) (*equal contributions)

    Cheng, H.-J., Nakamoto, M., Bergemann, A. D. and Flanagan, J. G.. Complementary gradients in expression and binding of ELF-1 and Mek4 in development of the topographic retinotectal projection map. Cell 82:371-381. (1995)

    Cheng, H.-J. and Flanagan. J.G.. Identification and cloning of ELF-1, a developmentally-expressed ligand for the Mek4 and Sek receptor tyrosine kinases. Cell 79:157-168. (1994)