When Lin Mei decided to go into medicine, he was following in his parents’ footsteps. Both had careers in the field: his mother in cardiology and his father in public health.
But after medical school in China and a one-year internship that exposed him to various specialties in medicine, he felt he could have even greater impact if he entered the research side.
“Medicine at that time was not as advanced, especially in China,” Mei, professor and chair of the Department of Neurosciences, said. “A lot of these diseases, we had no mechanism [to treat] and didn’t really understand.”
Mei wanted to change that.
He decided to continue his education, earning a master’s degree in neuropharmacology in China and then a PhD at the University of Arizona, followed by postdoctoral training at Johns Hopkins University.
Understanding the brain
It was during his master’s program that Mei first started working on neuromuscular junctions—a major part of his research today. A neuromuscular junction is the connection—known as a synapse—formed between multiple neurons in the spinal cord and skeletal muscle. These neuromuscular junctions are essential for the way we move our bodies, while other types of synapses control the way we think, make decisions and perceive the environment.
“In the end, the brain is a computer and all the chips have to talk to each other,” Mei said.
But when things go wrong with the neuromuscular junction, an individual can experience conditions such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease), myasthenia gravis and muscular dystrophies.
So, Mei has spent his career researching how synapses are formed to better understand their function.
One key finding by Mei and his collaborators is how the molecule lipoprotein receptor–related protein 4 (Lrp4) is an important factor in cell communication, and that an antibody to the molecule can cause myasthenia gravis.
Another line of Mei’s research is on how the brain works, especially as it relates to conditions such as autism, schizophrenia and psychiatric disorders.
More specifically, Mei’s lab has focused on what could cause attention problems in patients with ADHD, schizophrenia and depression. Using mouse models, they’ve tracked how two areas of the brain could lack coordination in individuals with those disorders due to dysfunction in the ErbB4 gene.
Bringing researchers together
To further expand our understanding of the brain, Mei has directed the Cleveland Brain Health Initiative since coming to Case Western Reserve in fall 2014.
The initiative brings together neuroscientists from several institutions around the region, including researchers and physicians, to advance the understanding of the brain and produce translational results.
Now that you know more about Mei’s research and work on campus, take time to see how Mei answered this week’s five questions.
1. What new hobby would you pursue if you had more time?
The problem is my time is extremely limited… but I’d probably study history—I love history.
2. Where is your favorite spot on or near campus to work, read or study?
Probably my office close to my lab.
3. What new place would you most like to travel?
Now that my kids [James Meixiong, a Harvard University alumnus and MD/PhD student at Johns Hopkins, and Gerald Meixiong, a Stanford alumnus and engineer in computer science at a company in the Bay Area of California] are on the coasts, we have to travel toward them.
The place my wife [Professor of Neurosciences Wen-Cheng Xiong] and I travel the most at the moment is China because my parents are still there. Other than that, the Caribbean is the most frequent place we’ve visited.
For something new, Middle East countries like Israel and Egypt, as well as places like Greece, Africa and Antarctica, because I like history and nature.
4. If you could learn another language, what would you choose?
Maybe Latin because of the history.
5. What’s your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
I like my department and its history; it is one of the earliest departments dedicated to neuroscience. My faculty is very devoted to research.