Guoyan Zhao, PhD

Guoyan Zhao, PhD

Assistant Professor of Genetics and Neurology

Zhao Lab | Google Scholar Profile


Dr. Zhao received her Ph.D. training in the laboratory of Dr. James Skeath in the Washington University School of Medicine studying Drosophila central nervous system development. She identified a new transcription factor named Dichaete, which works together with transcription factor Ind to regulate neuronal cell fate specification in the Drosophila central nervous system. Dr. Zhao’s study provided mechanistic insights into the early development of the Drosophila central nervous system which is conserved throughout mammals.

As a Ruth L. Kirschstein Postdoctoral Fellow, Dr. Zhao joined the laboratory of Dr. Gary Stormo for interdisciplinary training in computational biology. In metazoans, the precise spatiotemporal gene expression patterns are largely controlled by coordinated binding of multiple TFs to their binding sites, and these clusters of TF binding sites form cis-regulatory modules (CRMs). Dr. Zhao developed a novel bioinformatics tool for tissue-specific CRM detection with high sensitivity and specificity and a novel algorithm for accurate whole genome-wide CRM prediction using Caenorhabditis as the model system. The methods were instrumental for studying high dietary zinc mediated transcriptional regulation and muscle-specific gene expression as demonstrated by two collaborative publications using these tools.

In 2007 Dr. Zhao joined the Department of Pathology and Immunology as the supervisor and a founding member of the Pathogen Discovery Facility. Her group developed multiple viral search algorithms and a machine learning algorithm that lead to the discovery of the first link between eukaryotic viruses and type I diabetes . Under Dr. Zhao’s leadership the work performed in the facility enabled over 40 publications between 2009 and 2019.

In April 2018, Dr. Zhao joined the Department of Neuroscience at Washington University School of Medicine to establish her own laboratory as an Assistant Professor on the Research Track (independent). Since then, she have successfully established a NIH funded, nationally recognized, and highly collaborative research program. She has been awarded multiple grants including a NIH R01, a R21, and a R03 to support her innovative research. Dr. Zhao is also supported by a U19 grant to establish a PRECISION Human Pain Network Center, serving as the co-Director of the Data Core and MPI of a component project, as well as a member of the Steering Committee of the PRECISION Human Pain Network. She has served on multiple NIH study sections as the Chair, Vice Chair, or ad hoc reviewers. Dr. Zhao have contributed to DBBS program by serving as thesis committee members and scientific competition judges, teaching, and interviewing candidate students. She have assembled an excellent research team consisting of talented graduate students, postdocs, and bioinformatics research analysts represented by researchers from multiple countries with diverse racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, and cultural backgrounds. Several trainees have moved on to their next stage training in prestigious universities.

On June 1st, 2023, Dr. Zhao joined the Department of Genetics and the Department of Neurology at Washington University School of Medicine as a dual Genetics/Neurology Assistant Professor on the Investigator Track. Her laboratory integrates multiple cutting-edge computational and experimental approaches to study gene transcriptional regulation in the nervous system and how changes in the regulation contribute to neurological and neurodegenerative diseases.


Transcriptional regulation largely determines the spatiotemporal specificity and dynamic patterns of gene expression during development and in response to environmental stimuli. We are interested in understanding the molecular mechanisms underlying the precise control of gene expression in the nervous system and how changes in the regulation contribute to neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Parkinson disease (PD) and Lewy body diseases (LBDs).  We employ multiple cutting-edge computational and experimental approaches to understand the gene regulatory controls. We take snapshots of the regulatory systems using single-cell omics and imaging assays. We develop computational algorithms to integrate data and generate testable models of gene regulatory pathways to guide our experimental design and test our predictions in model systems. Our long-term goal is to provide novel insights into the mechanism of disease pathogenesis and new biomarkers and targets for disease diagnosis, prevention and treatment development.

Latest News

Guoyan Zhao, PhD

Genetics professor receives R01 grant (Links to an external site)

Guoyan Zhao, PhD, recently received her first R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a milestone achievement. WashU Medicine has risen to No. 3 among U.S. medical schools in total NIH research funding support.