Fei Zhao

Position title: Assistant Professor

Email: fei.zhao@wisc.edu

Comparative Biosciences
Sex organ development

B.E. Bioengineering, China University of Mining and Technology-Beijing, 2009; Ph.D. in Toxicology, University of Georgia (Dr. Xiaoqin Ye's lab), 2014; Postdoctoral training in Reproductive and Developmental Biology, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (Dr. Humphrey Yao's lab), 2014-2019
Comparative Biosciences
Research Interests
Sex organ development
Research Fields
Cell Biology, Development, Gene expression, Genomics and Proteomics,

Research Description: 

Our lab aims to understand cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying sexual differentiation of reproductive tracts. Before sexual differentiation, both primitive male and female reproductive tracts co-exist in an embryo. During sexual differentiation, the embryo eliminates one of the two primitive tracts and maintains exclusively the one matching to its sex. The retained sex-specific tract eventually differentiates into a functional organ in the adult reproductive system. Sexual differentiation and function of reproductive tracts are regulated/influenced by actions of sex hormones. Therefore, during differentiation, the male and female reproductive tract must acquire/develop proper responsiveness to sex hormones; environmental chemicals mimicking sex hormones can have adverse effects on reproductive tract differentiation. We are particularly interested in and focus on understanding mechanisms underlying the above phenomena:

1. How are sex-specific fates of two primitive reproductive tracts regulated? 2. How does the male and female reproductive tract acquire/develop proper responsiveness to male and female sex hormones, respectively? 3. How do environmental chemicals that interfere with sex hormone signaling affect reproductive tract differentiation?

We address these questions by utilizing transgenic and conditional knockout mouse models, ex vivo organ culture, gene/protein expression analyses, genomic and single-cell technologies. Disruptions in reproductive tract differentiation can lead to disorders of sex development and jeopardize an individual’s future reproductive potential. Our research will provide fundamental knowledge for the development of better strategies for prevention, diagnosis and treatment of related disorders of sex development and reproductive diseases.

Representative Publications:

Search PubMed for more publications by Fei Zhao

Jia S, Wilbourne J, Crossen MJ, Zhao F. Morphogenesis of the female reproductive tract along antero-posterior and dorso-ventral axes is dependent on Amhr2+ mesenchyme in mice. Biol Reprod. 2022. Epub 2022/09/22. doi: 10.1093/biolre/ioac179. PubMed PMID: 36130202.

Jia S, Zhao F. Ex vivo development of the entire mouse fetal reproductive tract by using microdissection and membrane-based organ culture techniques. Differentiation. 2022;123:42-9. Epub 2022/01/15. doi: 10.1016/j.diff.2022.01.001. PubMed PMID: 35030420.

Zhao F, Franco HL, Rodriguez KF, Brown PR, Tsai MJ, Tsai SY, Yao HH. Elimination of the male reproductive tract in the female embryo is promoted by COUP-TFII in mice. Science. 2017 Aug 18;357(6352):717-720. doi: 10.1126/science.aai9136. PubMed PMID: 28818950; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5713893.

Zhao F, Li R, Xiao S, Diao H, Viveiros MM, Song X, Ye X. Postweaning exposure to dietary zearalenone, a mycotoxin, promotes premature onset of puberty and disrupts early pregnancy events in female mice. Toxicol Sci. 2013 Apr;132(2):431-42. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfs343. Epub 2013 Jan 5. PubMed PMID: 23291560; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3595522.