Youg Zhu

Dr. Yong Zhu

Title: Professor
Area of Study: Comparative, developmental, and Molecular Endocrinology
Phone: 252-328-6504
Fax: 252-328-4718
Office: N413 Howell Science
Address: Department of Biology
East Carolina University
Greenville, NC 27858


Postdoctoral fellow: in Comparative & Molecular Endocrinology & Protein Biochemistry, Marine Science Institute, University of Texas at Austin, Port Aransas, Texas 1993-2001

Postdoctoral fellow: in Biotechnology & Protein Biochemistry, Central Research Institute, Maruha Co, Tsukuba, Japan, 1991-1992

Ph.D.: in Comparative Endocrinology at University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan 1991.

M.Sc.: in Reproductive & Comparative Physiology, University of Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan 1988.

B.Sc.: in Marine Biology, Xiamen University, Xiamen, China 1984.

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Research Program:

  1. The Nongenomic Signaling Mechanisms of a Novel GPCR Like Membrane Progestin Receptors and Their Interactions with Classic Progestin Receptor:Steroid hormones and their receptors are involved in various biological processes of cells such as cell survival, proliferation, metabolism, development, immunological and sexual responses , and disease treatment including control of cancer progress. The effects of steroids have been well defined as genomic and nongenomic in order to differentiate non-transcriptional steroid activities (non-genomic) from the transcriptional steroid activities (genomic). However, the reports of these signaling mechanisms and identities of the receptor responsible for the nongenomic actions of steroids are still very controversial, despite intensive investigations over past three decades. We have strong evidence indicate that these nongenomic progestin actions are initiated by a novel class of GPCR-like membrane progestin receptors (mPRs) that I have been cloned and characterized few years ago. The long-term goal of my research is to elucidate the functions and signaling mechanisms of the mPRs and their interactions with classic progestin receptors, and develop applications in medicine, agriculture and aquiculture.
  2. Physiological Roles and Signaling Mechanisms of the Members of Growth Hormone and Prolactin Superfamily during Early Development:The growth hormone and prolactin superfamily, which includes the mammalian placental lactogen and somatolactin in teleost, are important in hundreds of different physiological processes. Despite extensive research, we know very little about the roles of growth hormone and prolactin during early embryonic development. The current central dogma states that neither growth hormone nor prolactin has any functions for normal development based on experimentation on anencephalic fetuses, decapitated, or knockout mammalian models. Studies from my and other laboratories have challenged the dogma. Recently, I have demonstrated that prolactin is an important regulator for the normal development of the eyes, brain, melanophores and body size in zebrafish (Zhu et al., 2007). Furthermore, my studies suggest that prolactin functions in embryos by acting as a survival factor during zebrafish embryogenesis and probably many additional functions still yet undiscovered. For the first time, prolactin was demonstrated to be functional and important for the development of several organs/tissues during embryogenesis in a vertebrate species. The novel results, therefore, requires further investigation into the specific molecular mechanisms of actions for prolactin in embryonic development. My short-term goal is to determine physiological mechanisms, signal pathways and genes controlled by prolactin in early embryonic development. My long-term goals are: 1) establish physiological functions and molecular mechanisms of the prolactin superfamily during early development; 2) contribute to the development of applications in aquaculture and agriculture, and treatments in human diseases. Understanding prolactin-regulated developmental processes and signaling molecules may facilitate the development of therapeutic protocols and reagents that can be used to control proper development and attenuate disease associated with abnormal development of organs/tissues.

Courses Taught:

BIOL 3320 The Principles of Animal Physiology (undergraduate course).

BIOL 5630 Comparative Animal Physiology (graduate course for MS candidates and senior undergraduates)

BIOL 6082 Fundamentals of Vertebrate Endocrinology (graduate course for PhD/MS candidates)

BIOL 7080 Molecular Endocrinology (graduate course for PhD/MS candidates)

BIOL 7630 Fish Physiology (graduate course for PhD/MS candidates)

BIOL 7890 Current Literatures in Molecular Biology (graduate course)


Frye, C.A., Walf, A.A., Kohtz, A.S., Zhu, Y. (2013) Membrane progestin receptors in the midbrain ventral tegmental are required for progesterone-facilitated lordosis of rats. Horm Behav. 2013 Jun 12. doi:pii: S0018-506X(13)00124-4. 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2013.05.012.

Cánepa, M.M., Zhu, Y., Fossati, M., Stiller, J.W., Vissio, P.G. (2012) Cloning, phylogenetic analysis and expression of somatolactin and its receptor in Cichlasomadimerus: Their role in long-term background color acclimation. Gen Comp Endocrinol. 176, 52-61.

Hanna RN*, Zhu Y (2011). Controls of meiotic signaling by membrane or nuclear progestin receptor in zebrafish follicle-enclosed oocytes. Molecular and Cellular Endocrinology. 337:80-88.

Diotel N,Servili A,Gueguen MM,Mironov, S,Pellegrini, E,Vaillant C,Zhu Y,Kah, O,Anglade I. (2011) Nuclear progesterone receptors are up-regulated by estrogens n neurons and radial glial progenitors in the brain of zebrafish. PLoS One.6(11): e28375.

Hanna RN*, Daly SC*, Pang Y, Anglade I, Kah O, Thomas P, Zhu Y (2010) Characterization and expression of the nuclear progestin receptor in zebrafish gonads and brain. Biol Reprod. 82:112-22.

Carnevali O, Tosti L, Speciale C, Peng C, Zhu Y, Maradonna F (2010) DEHP impairs zebrafish reproduction by affecting critical factors in oogenesis. PLoS One. 5:e10201.

Nguyen, N*, Zhu Y (2009) Prolactin functions as a survival factor during zebrafish embryogenesis. Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integr Physiol.153; 88-93

Hanna R*, Zhu Y (2009) Expression of membrane progestin receptors in zebrafish (Danio rerio) oocytes, testis and pituitary. General and Comparative Endocrinology161: 153-157

Nguyen N*, Stellwag EJ, Zhu Y (2008) Prolactin modulating organogenesis in the vertebrate-recent discoveries in zebrafish. Comp Biochem Physiol C Toxicol Pharmacol. 148:370-380.

ZhuY, HannaRN*, Schaaf MJ, Spaink HP, ThomasP (2008) Candidates for membrane progestin receptors in vertebrate gametes—past approaches and future challenges. Comp Biochem Physiol C Toxicol Pharmacol. 148:381-389. (It was a top cited article between 2008-2010 for the journal)

Summers K, Zhu Y (2008) Positive selection on a prolactin paralog following gene duplication in cichlids: adaptive evolution in the context of parental care? Copeia, 4: 872-976.

Xie C*, Nguyen N*, Zhu Y, Li Q (2007) Detection of the recombinant proteins in single transgenic microbial cells using laser tweezers and ramen spectroscopy. Analytical Chemistry 79:9269-9275.

Zhu Y, Song D*, Tran N*, Nguyen N* (2007)The effects of the members of growth hormone family knockdown in zebrafish development. General and Comparative Endocrinology 150: 395-404.

Thomas P, Pang Y, Dong J, Groenen P, Kelder J, de Vlieg J, Zhu Y, Tubbs C* (2007) Steroid and G Protein Binding Characteristics of the Seatrout and Human Progestin Membrane Receptor Alpha Subtypes and Their Evolutionary Origins. Endocrinology 148: 705-718.

Hanna RN*, Pang Y, ThomasP, Zhu Y (2006) Cell Surface Expression, Progestin Binding and Rapid Nongenomic Signaling of Zebrafish Membrane Progestin Receptors α and β in Transfected Cells. Journal of Endocrinology 190: 247 - 260.

Nguyen N*, Sugimoto M, Zhu Y (2006) Production and purification of recombinant somatolactin β and its effects on melanosome aggregation in zebrafish. General and Comparative Endocrinology 145: 182-187.

Zhu Y, Stiller JW, Shaner MP*, Baldini A*, Scemama JL, Capehart AA (2004) Cloning of somatolactin a and cDNAs in zebrafish and phylogenetic analysis of two distinct somatolactin subtypes in fish. Journal of Endocrinology 182: 509-518.

Thomas P, Pang Y, Zhu Y, Detweiler C*, Doughty K* (2004) Multiple rapid progestin actions and progestin membrane receptor subtypes in fish. Steroids 69:567-573.

Zhu Y, Rice CD, Pang Y, Pace M, Thomas P (2003) Cloning, expression and characterization of a novel membrane progestin receptor and evidence it is an intermediary in meiotic maturation of fish oocytes. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 100: 2231-2236. (The article has been cited over 300 times)

Zhu Y, Bond JE, Thomas P (2003) Identification, classification and partial characterization of genes in humans and other vertebrates homologous to a novel fish membrane progestin receptor. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 100:2237-2242. (The article has been cited over 300 times)

Laboratory Personel




Payal Chokshi 
MS Candidate




Zoe Shaner 
PhD Candidate




Lenny Yong 
PhD Candidate




Tsewntoo Tao 
Undergraduate Research Assistant




Zayer Thet 
Undergraduate Research Assistant