Qi Chen M.D., Ph.D.: Biography/Education

Assistant Professor of Physiology and Cell Biology

Department of Physiology and Cell Biology


  • Ph.D. - Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing, China
  • M.D. - Chongqing Medical University, Chongqing, China


After I got my M.D. at Chongqing Medical University, I began my research with a project studying mouse embryo implantation at Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, where I grew an interest in the molecular and biomechanical mechanisms to control intrauterine embryo localization and embryo orientation. After a twisted and exciting journey of discovery, I ended up to study water channels (aquaporins, AQPs) in reproductive system, with a serendipitous discovery of AQP3's role in sperm osmoadaptation, which turned out to be my Ph.D. thesis. After the experience of working on sperm, I moved on to study the sperm-borne information (particularly those aside from DNA), and found a novel class of tRNA-derived small RNAs (tsRNAs), also known as tRFs (tRNA fragments) that are highly enriched in mature sperm. The function of sperm-borne tsRNAs is now a focus of my current research. I also developed a keen interest on the origin (molecular and cellular) of early mammalian embryo symmetry-breaking before blastocyst formation, for which we are now utilizing the power of single-cell technology and mathematical modeling to study with.


Sperm epigenetics: hidden information in RNAs

tsRNAs are highly enriched in mature sperm & serumWe are fascinated about the tantalizing facts that some acquired traits during paternal exposure can be inherited to the offspring, which apparently involves epigenetic mechanisms and lead to a resurrected idea of "Lamarckian inheritance." We recently discovered that a subset of sperm tRNA-derived small RNAs (tsRNAs), mainly from 5′ tRNA halves and ranging in size from 30-34 nucleotide, represent a type of paternal epigenetic information carrier that contribute to intergenerational inheritance of diet-induced metabolic disorder. We are currently working on how sperm tsRNAs, as well as their RNA modifications and responsible enzymes, affect the process of embryo development that lead to offspring phenotypic changes.

Symmetry-breaking in mammalian early embryo: when and how?

chance separation and bistable distribution In mammalian preimplantation embryo development, when the first asymmetry emerges and how it develops to direct distinct cell fates are two longstanding questions. It remains debatable whether the first bifurcation of cell fate emerges randomly at morula stage, or has been predetermined at earlier stages before morphological distinction. Combining single-cell RNA-seq analysis and mathematical modelling, we recently showed that the very first symmetry-breaking process involves both chance separation and defined transcriptional circuits, a new framework for our future detailed investigations.

Old dog, new tricks? novel function of Aquaporins beyond simple permeability

tissue water permeability Aquaporin(s), also known as water channel(s), are a family of integral trans-membrane proteins that form pores in the membrane of cells, their presence increases cell membrane permeability to water, or other small molecules such glycerol. However, emerging evidence for AQPs in cell volume regulation, including our discovery of AQP3's role in sperm osmoadaptation, can not be fully explained by considering AQPs as inert pores simply for water permeability, but implicating AQPs as mechanosensors, especially in tissues with very low water permeability such as bladder, urethra etc.

For full publication list, please check Dr. Qi Chen's ORCID ID tsRNAs

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