Yini Li

As a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Shuying Sun’s lab, I study how the dysregulation of RNA metabolism contributes to neurodegeneration, particularly in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD). We provided evidence that showed a prevalent mRNA modification, N6-methyladenosine (m6A), as a previously unknown pathogenic mechanism in the most common familial C9ORF72-associated ALS and FTD. On one hand, we found that the abnormal m6A reduction leads to the transcriptome-wide mRNA dysregulation with significant enrichment in synaptic activity and neuronal functional pathways. On the other hand, we found that m6A reduction disturbed the decay of the causative repeat expansion in the C9ORF72 gene. Our strategies to elevate the m6A levels in the diseased neurons rescued a broad spectrum of post-transcriptional dysregulation and disease-related pathologies, which holds great therapeutic potential.

Questions & Answers

Why did you choose Johns Hopkins for your work?

Johns Hopkins is a world-class research institution with world-leading researchers, impressive research opportunities and a highly collaborative environment. Also, as a Ph.D. graduate from the C. elegans field, I am immensely grateful that Dr. Shuying Sun offered me an opportunity to pursue my research interests in human diseases. Joining the Sun lab has been an incredibly fortunate opportunity, and it has proven to be an excellent choice for my postdoctoral training.


What does receiving this award mean to you personally and professionally? Do you have any connection with the particular award you received?

I am deeply honored to receive this award, which is named after the remarkable female pioneer in pediatric cardiology, Dr. Helen B. Taussig. The work recognized by this award is truly teamwork from many individuals. I believe this award will be a nice addition to my CV. More importantly, it is a motivation for me to continue pursuing my research of interest in translational science, and it will always serve as a reminder of the importance of teamwork in science. Dr. Taussig’s legacy of hard work and genuine care for patients motivates me to achieve the translational potential of my research.


What contributed to your project’s success?

My project would not have been successful without the guidance from my excellent mentor, my reliable collaborators and my supportive colleagues. Also, the work largely benefited from a previous lab effort on a CRISPR screen.


What thoughts do you have about Young Investigators’ Day itself, as a celebration of the roles students and fellows play in research at Johns Hopkins?

I am grateful for the YIDP, which recognizes the effort from young investigators and allows young investigators to be seen within a broader community.


What has been your best/most memorable experience while at Johns Hopkins?

It is with the Sun lab members when we celebrated every big or small achievement of lab members. I also remember fondly the days that Shuying and I pushed each other to make paper revisions faster. It was a fun experience.


What are your plans over the next year or so? Graduating, looking for faculty positions, etc.?

I will be looking for faculty positions. 


Tell me something interesting about yourself that makes you unique. Do you have any special hobbies, interests or life experiences?

I own a giant vineyard in Stardew Valley, Steam, USA.