Azrieli Centre for Autism Research (ACAR): Transforming autism research, training and care -- improving lives via Open Science

Yang Zhou

Yang Zhou

Yang Zhou, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, McGill University, a Tier II Canada Research Chair, and a researcher at The Neuro.

He joined the Azrieli Centre for Autism Research (ACAR) in 2020. 

What sparked your interest in autism and neurodevelopmental research?

My nephew was diagnosed with autism at three years old. He benefitted from early behavioural therapy and began acquiring basic vocabulary at five years old. I witnessed first-hand how autism touched our family. I have also followed neurodevelopmental disorders from both a clinical and basic science perspective over the past decade. For the next ten years, I am optimistic that there is something good we can do for individuals and their families who require care and support if we pursue the right direction and work hard.

We hope our work could reveal meaningful pathophysiology, provide new knowledge for interventions, and eventually lead to precise diagnoses for autism and related neurodevelopmental disorders and also contribute to possible medication options for those who may benefit from it.

Consider the field of autism research as a whole; where should we focus our efforts to improve the lives of autistic individuals and their families? 

Brain development and associated cognitive outcomes have intrinsic clocks. Time windows and the plasticity of many functional modalities decline substantially as time goes by. Research from animal models has demonstrated the inverse relationship between developmental stages and the potential in the rescue of neural and behavioural deficits.

We hope that ACAR and the larger community of autism researchers could facilitate public awareness of early diagnosis and interventions. For individuals and their families, I wish deleterious symptoms could be well managed, and they could benefit from existing care as early as possible.

Improving quality of life or slowing the progression of life-threatening symptoms could be an achievable goal for some individuals. As I learned from my mentors and many pioneers, there are encouraging translations of gene therapy toward subtypes of autism, such as specific categories of SHANK3 mutation, and I wish them great success with their work.

I also hope that our collective efforts at ACAR could contribute to the development, translation, and therapeutic application of profound autism and neurodevelopmental disorders in the near future.

What does it mean to you to be a member of ACAR? 

It is my great fortune to be a member of ACAR. The mentorship from senior colleagues and the generous funding support from ACAR give my students and I the encouragement to work on ambitious, innovative projects with real potential to lead to high-impact discoveries that will directly improve quality of life for autistic individuals and their families. 


Yang Zhou, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, McGill University, a Tier II Canada Research Chair, and a researcher at The Neuro.

He received a medical degree and residency training before pursuing basic research. He obtained a doctorate in neurobiology from the Institute of Neuroscience (ION), Chinese Academy of Sciences. He completed post-doctoral training at the McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

With Professor Feng Zhang, Yang contributed to developing tools and resources for gene-editing (e.g., TALE-based toolkit and CRISPR/Cas9 knock-in mouse) that have been shared with many hundreds of laboratories internationally. He also joined a patent invention on gene editing. The invention has been licensed to dozens of biotech and pharmaceutical entities worldwide to facilitate their discovery of new drugs or therapies for human genetic diseases.

With Professor Guoping Feng and Professor Robert Desimone, Yang contributed to the generation and characterization of the SHANK3 advanced animal model of Autism Spectrum Disorder, the world’s first germline-transmittable, CRISPR-edited model of brain disorder. His work contributed to 30 peer-reviewed publications that have garnered over 4,800 citations so far.

At McGill University, Yang and his group aim to understand neurodevelopmental disorders and develop intervention strategies.

With the generous support from ACAR, Canada Research Chairs, McGill's Health Brains, Healthy Lives, SickKids, and other funding agencies, Yang and his mentors, collaborators, trainees develop and analyze various models of neurodevelopmental disorders to acquire an in-depth knowledge of pathophysiology. They also engineer and apply tools to examine the rescue of neural and behavioural function, with a focus on the mutation of genes encoding ionic channels and synaptic proteins.

The ultimate goal of his group is to develop mechanism-based, effective, translatable intervention options for autism and other neurodevelopment disorders.

Research Areas

Genetic Engineering, Neurodevelopmental Disorders

List of Selected Publications

Gong, X., Mendoza-Halliday, D., Ting, J., Kaiser, T. et al. An Ultra-Sensitive Step-Function Opsin for Minimally Invasive Optogenetic Stimulation in Mice and Macaques. Neuron 107(1), 38-51 (2020).

Zhou, Y., Sharma, J., Ke, Q., Landman, R. et al. Atypical behaviour and connectivity in SHANK3-mutant macaques. Nature 570, 326-331 (2019).

Kumita, W., Sato, K., Suzuki, Y., Kurotaki, Y. et al. Efficient generation of Knock-in/Knock-out marmoset embryo via CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing. Scientific Reports 9, 12719 (2019).

Platt, R., Zhou, Y., SlaymakerKe, I., Shetty, AS. et al. Chd8 Mutation Leads to Autistic-like Behaviors and Impaired Striatal Circuits. Cell Reports 19(2), 335-350 (2017).

Mei, Y., Monteiro, P., Zhou, Y., Xian, G. et al. Adult restoration of Shank3 expression rescues selective autistic-like phenotypes. Nature 530, 481-484 (2016).

Zhou, Y., Kaiser, T., Monteiro, P., Zhang, XY. et al. Mice with Shank3 Mutations Associated with ASD and Schizophrenia Display Both Shared and Distinct Defects. Neuron 89(1), 147-162 (2016).

Jennings, C., Landman, R., Zhou, Y., Sharma, J. et al. Opportunities and challenges in modeling human brain disorders in transgenic primates. Nature Neuroscience 19, 1123-1130 (2016).

Emailyang.zhou7 [at]


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The Neuro (Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital) is a bilingual academic healthcare institution. We are a McGill research and teaching institute; delivering high-quality patient care, as part of the Neuroscience Mission of the McGill University Health Centre. We are proud to be a Killam Institution, supported by the Killam Trusts.



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