Michael Ferns, Ph.D.

Davis Campus

Research Interests

My interest is in understanding the cellular and molecular basis of synapse formation in the mammalian nervous system. Synapse formation is critical for the formation, maintenance and plasticity of the nervous system and perturbations in synaptic structure and function have been implicated in a range of neurological disorders. My research focuses on cholinergic synapses that play critical roles in the functioning of both the peripheral and central nervous systems. Our main aims are (1) to define the extracellular synaptogenic factors that regulate the formation and maintenance of neuromuscular and neuronal autonomic synapses in the PNS, and (2) to define the intracellular mechanisms that regulate the trafficking and localization of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors at these synapses. This includes collaborative studies with clinician-scientists at UC Davis to establish how defects in synapse formation or receptor localization contribute to neurological diseases such as myasthenia gravis and congenital myasthenic syndromes.

Graduate Group Affiliations

Maselli RA, Wei DT, Hodgson TS, Sampson JB, Vazquez J, Smith HL, Pytel P, Ferns M. Dominant and recessive congenital myasthenic syndromes caused by SYT2 mutations. Muscle Nerve. 2021 May 26;. doi: 10.1002/mus.27332. [Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 34037996.

Ferns M. An Inside Job: Molecular Determinants for Postsynaptic Localization of Nicotinic Acetylcholine Receptors. Molecules. 2021 May 21;26(11). doi: 10.3390/molecules26113065. Review. PubMed PMID: 34063759; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC8196675.

Maselli RA, van der Linden H Jr, Ferns M. Recessive congenital myasthenic syndrome caused by a homozygous mutation in SYT2 altering a highly conserved C-terminal amino acid sequence. Am J Med Genet A. 2020 Jul;182(7):1744-1749. doi: 10.1002/ajmg.a.61579. Epub 2020 Apr 6. PubMed PMID: 32250532.

Rudell JC, Borges LS, Yarov-Yarovoy V, Ferns M. The MX-Helix of Muscle nAChR Subunits Regulates Receptor Assembly and Surface Trafficking. Front Mol Neurosci. 2020;13:48. doi: 10.3389/fnmol.2020.00048. eCollection 2020. PubMed PMID: 32265653; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC7105636.

Rudell JB, Maselli RA, Yarov-Yarovoy V, Ferns MJ. Pathogenic effects of agrin V1727F mutation are isoform specific and decrease its expression and affinity for HSPGs and LRP4. Hum Mol Genet. 2019 Aug 15;28(16):2648-2658. doi: 10.1093/hmg/ddz081. PubMed PMID: 30994901; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6687949.

Maselli RA, Vázquez J, Schrumpf L, Arredondo J, Lara M, Strober JB, Pytel P, Wollmann RL, Ferns M. Presynaptic congenital myasthenic syndrome with altered synaptic vesicle homeostasis linked to compound heterozygous sequence variants in RPH3A. Mol Genet Genomic Med. 2018 May;6(3):434-440. doi: 10.1002/mgg3.370. Epub 2018 Feb 14. PubMed PMID: 29441694; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6014458.

Chang Rudell, J., Borges, LS., Rudell, JB., Beck, KA., and Ferns, MJ. Determinants in the beta and delta subunit cytoplasmic loop regulate Golgi trafficking and surface expression of the muscle acetylcholine receptor. J. Biol. Chem. 2014 Jan 3;289(1):203-214.

Rudell, JB., and Ferns, MJ. Regulation of muscle acetylcholine receptor turnover by beta subunit tyrosine phosphorylation. Dev. Neurobiol. 2013 May;73(5):399-410.

Maselli, RA., Arredondo, J., Ferns, MJ., and Wollmann, RL. Synaptic basal lamina-associated congenital myasthenic syndromes. Annals of NY Acad. Sci. 2012 Dec;1275:36-48.

Maselli, RA., Fernandez, JM., Arredondo, J., Navarro, C., Ngo, M., Beeson, D., Cagney, O., Williams, DC., Wollmann, RL., and Yarov-Yarovoy, V., and Ferns, M. LG2 agrin mutation causing severe congenital myasthenic syndrome mimics functional characteristics of non-neural (z-) agrin. Human Genetics 2012 Jul;131(7): 1123-35.

Richman DP, Nishi K, Morell SW, Chang JM, Ferns MJ, Wollmann RL, Maselli RA, Schnier J, Agius MA. Acute Severe Animal Model of Anti-Muscle-Specific Kinase Myasthenia: Combined Postsynaptic and Presynaptic Changes. Arch Neurol. 2012 Apr;69(4): 453-60

Lee Y, Rudell J, and Ferns M. Rapsyn interacts with the muscle AChR via a-helical domains in the a, b, and e subunit intracellular loops. Neuroscience 2009 Sep 29;163: 222-232.

Borges LS, Yechikhov S, Lee YI, Rudell JB, Friese MB, Burden SJ, Ferns MJ. Identification of a motif in the acetylcholine receptor beta subunit whose phosphorylation regulates rapsyn association and postsynaptic receptor localization. J Neurosci. 2008 Nov 5;28:11468-11476.

Gingras, J., Rassadi, S., Cooper, E., and Ferns, M. Synaptic transmission is impaired at neuronal autonomic synapses in agrin null mice. Dev. Neurobiol. 2007 Apr;67(5): 521-534.

Gingras, J., Rassadi, S., Cooper, E., & Ferns, M. Agrin plays an organizing role in the formation of sympathetic synapses. J. Cell Biol. 2002 Sep 16;158(6): 1109-1118.

  • HPH400, Human Physiology
  • MCP210A, Advanced Physiology, Co-Instructor of Record