Michael Ferns, Ph.D.

4218 Tupper Hall
Davis Campus


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 UCD to establish how defects in synapse formation or receptor localization contribute to neurological diseases such as myasthenia gravis and congenital myasthenic syndromes.

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.

  • Muscular Dystrophy Foundation
  • National Institute of Health