Seungil Ro Ph.D.: Biography/Education

Associate Professor

Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology & Physiology | Department of Physiology and Cell Biology


  • Ph.D., Cell & Molecular Biology, University of Nevada, Reno, 2002
  • M.S., Biological Sciences, California State University, Sacramento, 1999
  • M.S., Molecular Biology, Wonkwang University, Korea, 1994
  • B.S., Molecular Biology, Wonkwang University, Korea, 1992


Medical Students

Block 1: Foundations and Principles of Medical Sciences, CELL BIOL: Protein Synthesis, Modifications & Targeting, Molecular Biology and Forensics, Cell Renewal, Cell Death & Apoptosis

Graduate Students

  • BCH 705: Molecular Genetics: Regulatory RNAs, and Epigenetic Effects
  • CMPP794 Journal Club: MicroRNAs and Diseases (Fall), Epigenetics in Diseases (Spring)
  • PCB 711: Systems Physiology: Regenerative Medicine in Gastrointestinal Tract

Undergraduate Students

  • BIO298, 491, 492 Independent Study
  • BCH 407/408 Senior Thesis


My research interest is studying the roles of epigenetic genes that control gut neuromuscular disorders. The gut is a vital organ for human survival: it is where food is digested, where nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream, and where undigested waste moves through and leaves the body. This digestive process is achieved by the synchronized movement (motility) of gastrointestinal (GI) muscle, which mixes food and propels the digested content through the GI tract.

Motility of GI muscle is controlled by several types of cells: enteric nervous system (ENS), interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC), PDGFRα+ cells (fibroblast-like cells), and smooth muscle cells (SMC). ICC generate spontaneous electrical slow waves, ENS generates complex rhythmic motor behavior, and PDGFRα+ cells mediate enteric inhibitory responses, all of which control SMC, the final effectors for muscle contraction and muscle relaxation. Developmental abnormalities and pathophysiological damage of these cells are directly linked to GI neuromuscular diseases such as Hirschsprung's disease, diabetic gastroenteropathy, gastrointestinal stromal tumor, intestinal fibrosis, and chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction. All these motility diseases are thought to be developed from the remodeling of the smooth muscle in the GI tract, leading to abnormal growth (hypertrophy or tumor) or death (myopathy) of the cells.

We have generated several animal models with GI motility disorders, in which SMC, ICC, and/or SMC are labeled with GFP. The GFP labeled cells allow us to study genetic, cellular, and functional changes in designated cell types. We also study human patients with GI motility disorders in collaboration with GI physicians Kent Sasse, M.D. and Laren Becker, M.D./Ph.D.

Smooth Muscle graphic
Degenerated smooth muscle in wild type (WT) and knockout (KO) mouse of serum response factor, GFP-labeled SMC's, ICC and PDGFRa+ cells (PaC) in the muscle layers of small intestine.

Smooth Muscle Genome/Transcriptome Browser

Current Projects

In my lab, we have five main projects that we are working or developing.

  1. Roles of DNA methylation in gastrointestinal smooth muscle cells
  2. Engineering of functional smooth muscle cells from gastrointestinal myofibroblasts
  3. Development of smooth muscle genome and transcriptome browsers
  4. Epigenetic role of microRNAs in regulation of ICC phenotype in diabetes
  5. Adeno-associated virus mediated gene therapy


  • NIH/NIDDK R01DK094886 (Ro): 2012-2017
  • NIH/NIDDK R01DK103055 (Ro): 2015-2019
  • NIH/NIDDK P01-DK41315 (Sanders and Ro): 2014 - 2019

Current Lab Members

Staff Research Associate II
  • Sandra Poudrier (June 2015–present)
Post-Doctoral Fellow
  • Se-eun Ha, Ph.D. (Dec 2014–present)
Graduate Student
  • Lai Wei, Ph.D. Student, CMPP (Oct 2014–present)

  • Brian Jorgensen, PhD Student, CMB (Jan 2015–present)

Undergraduate Student
  • Phillip Vainer, Biochemistry (2014–present)
  • Kaitlyn McOsker, Biology (2014–present)
  • Amy Ross, Biology (2014–present)
  • Alena Lee, Biochemistry (2015–present)
  • Alianna Diaz, Biochemistry (2015–present)
  • Grace Field, Biochemistry (2015–present)
  • Katheline Seo, Biochemistry (2015-present)

Old Lab Members

Visiting Scholar
  • Moon Young Lee, M.D./Ph.D., Professor, Wonkwang University Medical School, Korea (July 2013–Feb 2016)
Post Doctoral Fellow
  • Paul J. Park, M.D./Ph.D. (Sep 2012–Aug 2013, Jan 2015–Jun 2015)
  • Chanjae Park, Ph.D. (April 2006–Oct 2015)
International Undergraduate Research Program
  • Niall Gilding, University of Manchester, UK (2011–2012)
  • Nicolas C. Collins, Queens University, N. Ireland (2012–2013)
  • James Perkins, University of Manchester, UK (2012–2013)
  • George Madder, University of Manchester, UK (2013–2014)
  • David O’Kane, University of Manchester, UK (2014–2015)
Graduate Student
  • Farshad Bozorgnia, MS, Student, Biotechnology (2011)
  • Robyn Berent, MS, CMB (April 2012-2015)
INBRE Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program
  • Sue Chung, Biochemistry (2009 summer)
  • Robert Fuchs, Biology (2013 summer)
Undergraduate Student
  • John Cho, Biology (2007–2009)
  • Jee Lee, Biology (2007–2008)
  • Hyemin Shin, Biochemistry (2008–2009)
  • Sue Chung, Biochemistry (2009–2010)
  • Albert Chin, Biology (2011–2013)
  • Hannah Syn, Biochemistry (2011–2014)
  • Anastasia Gunawan, Neuroscience (2011–2012)
  • Anton Abiog, Biology (2013)
  • Jessica King, Biochemistry (2012–2013)
  • Timothy Yu, Spanish (2011–2015)
  • Robert Fuchs, Biochemistry (2013–2015)
  • Crystal Viss, Biology (2013–present)
  • Ralph Octaviano, Neuroscience (2013–2015)
  • Christian Bak, pre-MD (2014–2015)
  • Pa Kang, Nursing (2014–2015)
  • Shelby Rector, Biology (2014-2015)
  • Sabrina Sevilla, pre-MD (2014-2015)
  • Maddie Ocampo, Neuroscience (2014-2015)
  • Kenton M. Sanders, Ph.D. (University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine)
  • Gabsang Lee, Ph.D./DVM (Institute of Cell Engineering, Johns Hopkins School of Medicine)
  • Kent Sasse, M.D. (Renown Medical Center)
  • Laren S. Becker, M.D. (Stanford University, School of Medicine)
  • Sean M. Ward, Ph.D. (University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine)
  • Joseph M. Miano, Ph.D. (University of Rochester)
  • Kazuhide Horiguchi, Ph.D. (University of Fukui, Medical Sciences, Japan)
  • Terence Smith, Ph.D. (University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine)
  • Mark A. Kay (Pediatrics and Genetics, Stanford University)
  • Wei Yan, M.D., Ph.D. (University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine)
  • Brian Perrino, Ph.D. (University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine)
  • Doug Redelman, Ph.D.
  • Jong Kun Park, Ph.D. (Wonkwang University, Korea)
  • Grant Hennig, Ph.D.
  • Pankaj J. Pasricha, M.D. (Johns Hopkins, Medicine)
  • Minsheng Zhu, Ph.D. (Nanjing University, Model Animal Research Center, China)
  • Brian P. Rubin, M.D./Ph.D. (Cleveland Clinic)
  • Dieter Saur, M.D. (Technische Universität München, Internal Medicine 2, Germany)
  • Michael I. Kotlikoff, VM.D./ Ph.D. (Cornell University)
  • Stefan Offermanns, M.D. (University of Heidelberg, Germany)
  • Laurie Jackson-Grusby, Ph.D. (Children's Hospital Boston / Harvard Medical School)
  • Pin Wang, Ph.D. (USC Viterbi School of Engineering)

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