Assistant Prof Ch'ng Toh Hean

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Assistant Professor Ch’ng Toh Hean
Nanyang Assistant Professor
Principal Investigator, Neurobiology of Long Term Memory Formation Laboratory
Laboratory Staff
  • ​Feng Chen, PhD, Research Fellow
  • Lim Wei Lee, Research Assistant
  • Chin Peiwern, Research Assistant
  • Lim Fang Yi Agnes, PhD Student
  • Lee Yan Jun, PhD Student
  • Soon Hui Rong, PhD Student


Dr Ch’ng Toh Hean is an Assistant Professor at Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, Nanyang Technological University (NTU), Singapore. He is also jointly appointed in the School of Biological Sciences at NTU. Dr Ch’ng was awarded the Nanyang Assistant Professorship in 2014.
Dr Ch’ng obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in Biology and Minor in Biochemistry from Davidson College, a liberal arts college in North Carolina, where he studied flagellar proteins in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. He then completed his PhD research at Princeton University, New Jersey, in the laboratory of Dr Lynn Enquist, studying the molecular mechanism of transneuronal spread of alphaherpesvirus in the nervous system. After leaving Princeton University, Dr Ch’ng pursued his postdoctoral research and was later promoted to a research fellow in the laboratory of Dr Kelsey Martin at University of California, Los Angeles, studying the molecular mechanisms of long term memory storage in the brain. In the lab, Dr Ch’ng focused his research on a potent transcriptional coactivator known as CRTC1, and showed that this coactivator undergoes activity-dependent translocation from the synapse to the nucleus and that it plays a crucial role in transcription-dependent neuronal plasticity.
Dr Ch’ng’s work was partially funded by the NARSAD Young Investigator Research Fellowship and his research has thus far been recognised by the Parvin Foundation Award as well as the MBI Excellence in Research Award.
Research Focus
Dr Ch’ng’s laboratory is interested in understanding how learning and long term memories are encoded in the brain. Elucidating the molecular and cellular underpinnings of memory formation are crucial for the development of effective and targeted therapies for numerous neurological and neurodegenerative disorders.
The human brain is comprised of billions of neurons that form a highly interconnected circuit capable of receiving, processing and responding to a range of environmental cues. Neurons within a circuit communicate by forming cell-cell junctions known as synapses. As neuronal networks rewire with experience, these synaptic connections also undergo persistent experience-dependent changes over time.  This constant strengthening or weakening of synapses in response to neuronal activity is known as synaptic plasticity and the long lasting forms of synaptic plasticity are the neurobiological foundations of learning and memory.
Dr Ch’ng’s laboratory will employ a multidisciplinary approach using different neuronal preparations derived from the hippocampus. We will use cell molecular, biochemistry, live imaging and next generation sequencing techniques to study how neurons relay signals from the synapses to the nucleus to initiate a transcriptional response required for experience-dependent rewiring of neuronal connections.
Synapse to nucleus signal transduction
The lab’s current research is focused on understanding how soluble signals associated with long-lasting forms of neuronal plasticity are relayed to the nucleus to alter gene expression. Research projects include a) identifying synaptic proteins that undergo regulated nuclear import; b) studying the cell biology of long distance retrograde transport of synaptic proteins that translocate to the nucleus; c) characterising the nuclear import machinery responsible for synapse to nucleus translocation.
Gene expression during long-term neuronal plasticity
Distal synaptic signals that arrive at the nucleus can initiate a transcriptional response that alters synaptic connectivity between neurons. We will focus our research on a) identifying changes in gene expression that are responsible for establishing long-lasting forms of neuronal plasticity; b) understanding how distinct spatial and temporal presentation of distal stimuli can trigger specific gene expression in the nucleus and c) how expression of new genes can produce long lasting structural and functional changes in neurons associated with long term plasticity.
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Key Publications
  1. Ch’ng TH, Uzgil B, Lin P, Avliyakulov N, O’Dell TJ, Martin KC. (2012). Activity-dependent transport of the CREB-Regulated Transcriptional Coactivator CRTC1 from Synapse to Nucleus. Cell. 150(1):207-21.
  2. Ch’ng TH, DeSalvo MD, Lin P, Martin KC. (2014). Molecular mechanism of CRTC1 long distance signal transduction in neurons. (Manuscript in review)
  3. Ch’ng TH, Martin KC. (2011). Synapse-to-nucleus signaling. Curr Opin Neurobio. 21(2):345-52.
  4. Kratchamarov R, Kramer T, Greco TM, Taylor MP, Ch’ng TH, Cristea IM, Enquist LW. (2013). Glycoprotein gE and gI are required for efficient KIF1A-dependent anterograde axonal transport of alphaherpesvirus particles in neurons. J Viro. 87(17):9431-40.
  5. Jeffrey RA, Ch’ng TH, O’Dell TJ, Martin KC. (2009). Activity-dependent anchoring of importin alpha at the synapse involves regulated binding to the cytoplasmic tail of the NR1-1a subunit of the NMDA receptor. J Neurosci. 29(50):15613-20.
  6. On KO, Zhao Y, Ch’ng TH, Martin KC. (2008).  Importin-mediated retrograde transport of CREB2/ATF4 from distal processes to the nucleus in neurons. Proc Natl Acad Sci. 105(44):17175-80.
  7. Dzudzor B, Huynh L, Thai M, Bliss JM, Nagaoka Y, Wang Y, Ch’ng TH, Jiang M, Martin KC, Colicelli J. (2010). Regulated expression of the Ras effector Rin1 in forebrain neurons. Mol Cell Neurosci. 43(1):108-16.
  8. Ch’ng TH, Enquist LW. (2005). Neuron-to-cell spread of Pseudorabies Virus in a Compartmented Neuronal Culture System. J Virol. 79(17):10875-89.
  9. Ch’ng TH, Enquist LW. (2005). The efficient axonal localization of alphaherpesvirus structural proteins in cultured sympathetic neurons requires viral glycoprotein E. J. Virol. 79(14):8835-46.
  10. Ch’ng TH, Spears PG, Struyf F, Enquist LW. (2007). Glycoprotein D-independent spread of pseudorabies virus infection in cultured PNS neurons in a compartmented system. J Virol. 81(19):10742-57.