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Cheng-Ying Ho, MD, PhD

Academic Title:

Associate Professor

Primary Appointment:


Secondary Appointment(s):



22 S Greene St, Baltimore, MD 21201

Education and Training

2003: M.D., National Taiwan University, Taipei, Taiwan
2008: Ph.D., Pathobiology, Columbia University, New York, NY
2011: Residency, Anatomic Pathology, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD
2013: Fellowship, Neuropathology, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore, MD


Dr. Cheng-Ying Ho is an Associate Professor of Pathology at University of Maryland School of Medicine. Her research focuses on sensory neuroscience and sensory neuropathy. Her main interest is the pathogenesis and therapeutics of sensory neuropathy, with a focus on the impact of the skin microenvironment on the development of diabetic neuropathy. Previous research in sensory neuropathy has largely focused on sensory neurons. Few studies have explored how changes in skin microenvironment may affect the health of the sensory nerve fibers, which are embedded in the skin. Skin and cutaneous sensory nerves form the neuro-immuno-endocrine circuitry, the disruption of which may underlie the pathogenesis of small-fiber sensory neuropathy. Her laboratory uses diverse approaches including molecular, cellular and genetic techniques to study the role of skin-derived neurotrophic factors in the development and maintenance of the cutaneous sensory nerve fibers. Neurotrophins and their corresponding receptors are expressed throughout the sensory system, indicating an important role of these molecules in the homeostasis of the system. Impaired skin neurotrophin signaling may underlie the pathogenesis of sensory neuropathy, causing pain and abnormal sensation. The goal of a main project is to elucidate the role of skin keratinocyte-secreted brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in neuroprotection and to develop novel therapeutics for diabetic neuropathy.

Dr. Ho publishes extensively in high-impact journals, including New England Journal of Medicine, Cell, Annals of Neurology and Acta Neuropathologica. She is the recipient of the Mentored Clinical Scientist Research Career Development Award (K08) from National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), Physician Scientist Award from Passano Foundation, and Young Physician Scientist Award from American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI). 

In addition to sensory neuroscience, she also has research interests in pediatric gliomas and Zika virus-associated neurological complications. She is a leading investigator of a study that provides crucial evidence to support a causal relationship between Zika virus infection and microcephaly.


Research/Clinical Keywords

Mechanosensory neurons; touch and pain sensation; peripheral neuropathy; diabetic neuropathy; low-grade glioma; Zika virus infection

Highlighted Publications

Kuehn ED, Meltzer S, Abraira VE, Ho C, Ginty DD. Tiling and somatotopicaAlignment of mammalian low-threshold mechanoreceptors. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2019; 116: 9168-9177.

Ho C*, Castillo N*, Encinales L, Porras A, Mendoza AR, Tolosa RG, Lynch R, Nemirovsky A, Mantus G, DeBiasi RL, Bethony JM, Simon GL, Chang AY. Second-trimester ultrasound and neuropathological findings in congenital Zika virus infection. Pediatr Infect Dis J 2018; 37: 1290-1293 (* equal contribution). 

Ho C, Ames HM, Tipton A, Vezina G, Liu JS, Scafidi J, Torii M, Rodriguez FJ, du Plessis A, DeBiasi RL. Differential neuronal susceptibility and apoptosis in congenital ZIKV infection. Ann Neurol 2017; 82: 121-127.  

Driggers RW*, Ho C*Korhonen EM*, Kuivanen S*, Jaaskalainen AJ, Smura T, Rosenberg A, Hill DA, DeBiasi DL, Vezina G, Timofeev J, Rodriguez FJ, Levanov L, Razak J, Iyengar P, Hennenfent A, Kennedy R, Lanciotti R, du Plessis A, Vapalahti O. Zika virus infection with prolonged maternal viremia and fetal brain abnormalities. N Eng J Med 2016; 374: 2142-2151 (* equal contribution).

Ho C, Mobley BC, Gordish-Dressman H, VandenBussche CJ, Mason GE, Bornhorst M, Esbenshade AJ, Tehrani M, Orr BA, LaFrance DR, Devaney JM, Meltzer BW, Hofherr SE, Burger PC, Packer RJ, Rodriguez FJ. A clinicopathologic study of diencephalic pediatric low-grade gliomas with BRAF V600 mutation. Acta Neuropathol 2015; 130:575-585. 

Rutlin M*, Ho C*, Abraira VE*, Cassidy C, Woodbury CJ, Ginty DD. The cellular and molecular basis of direction selectivity of Ad-LTMRs. Cell 2014; 159:1640-1651 (* equal contribution).

Clinical Specialty Details

Neuromuscular pathology; CNS tumors

Awards and Affiliations

- Congressional Citation for outstanding and timeless efforts to find cures for childhood brain tumors

- The Maryland General Assembly Official Citation for exceptional research in striving to find a care for childhood brain tumors and care for children with brain tumors

- Passano Foundation Clinician-Investigator Career Development Award

- National Institute of Health (NIH) Mentored Clinical Scientist Research Career Development Award (K08)       

- American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI) Young Physician-Scientist Award

2009-Present  Member, United States & Canadian Academy of Pathology

2011-Present  Member, American Association of Neuropathologists

2017-Present  Member, Society for Neuroscience

2017-Present  Member, Maryland Society of Pathologists

2018-Presemt Junior Member, Peripheral Nerve Society              

Grants and Contracts

1. NIH K08 NS102468 (Principle Investigator 75%)

“The Role of Skin BDNF in the Maintenance of the Cutaneous Mechanosensory Nervous System”  


2. NIH U19 U19AI131130 (Co-Investigator 5%) PI: Guo-Li Ming

“Engineering A Human Brain Organoid-Based Platform to Study Neurotropic Viruses” 



In the News

Early ultrasounds may not detect microcephaly in mothers with Zika: study

A health worker gives information during a preventive campaign against the Zika virus and other mosquito-borne diseases, at the cemetery of Presbitero Maestro in Lima, Peru, February 12, 2016. REUTERS/Mariana Bazo
 By Julie Steenhuysen | CHICAGO

Three ultrasounds done in the early weeks of pregnancy in a Finnish woman living in the United States infected by Zika failed to show signs of brain damage in a fetus later diagnosed with the birth defect microcephaly, U.S. researchers said in a study published on Wednesday.

The woman was not identified but she was infected while traveling on vacation in Mexico, Guatemala and Belize in November 2015. The exact location of transmission was not known.

It was not until the 19th week of her pregnancy that signs of the birth defect first showed up on an ultrasound. A follow up study using magnetic resonance imaging or MRI showed extensive brain abnormalities. Studies showed that the fetal brain had shrunken from a normal head circumference in the 47th percentile during week 16 to the 24th percentile in week 20. Even so, the head circumference was still not small enough to be classified as microcephaly, the researchers reported.

But given the extent of the damages seen on the MRI, the woman elected to terminate the pregnancy in the 21st week.

“What our paper suggests is that physicians should use caution in reassuring patients who have normal fetal ultrasound examinations early in their pregnancies," said Adre du Plessis, Director of the Fetal Medicine Institute at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., a coauthor of the study published on Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Du Plessis said single ultrasounds may not capture infection-associated fetal brain abnormalities that may worsen over the course of the pregnancy.

"There is an enormous amount we don't know about this current strain and outbreak of Zika virus. It seems to be behaving differently than in the past," du Plessis said in a conference call with reporters.

"What we do know for sure is if the fetal brain is affected this appears to be a very bad situation," he said.

Zika to date has not been proven to cause microcephaly in babies, but there is growing evidence that suggests a link. The condition is defined by unusually small heads that can result in developmental problems. Brazil - hardest hit by the virus - said it has confirmed more than 900 cases of microcephaly, and considers most of them to be related to Zika infections in the mothers. Brazil is investigating nearly 4,300 additional suspected cases of microcephaly.

In the paper, scientists examined the case of the woman who is from Washington, D.C. She became infected with Zika during her 11th week of pregnancy.

Although Zika infections typically remain present in the blood for 5 to 7 days, the virus in this patient remained present in this woman's blood until 10 days after the fetus was aborted.

Dr. Cheng-Ying Ho, a neuropathologist at Children’s National, said the finding raises questions about whether there is a correlation between the duration of virus infection in the mother and the severity of the brain injuries in the fetus.

An autopsy of the fetus showed high concentrations of the virus in the brain, placenta and umbilical cord. Virus isolated from the brain showed it was still infectious, growing easily in lab dishes of human nerve cells, the study reported.

Study co-author Dr. Roberta DeBiasi, an infectious disease expert at Children’s National, called the high levels of virus in the fetal brain and placenta "concerning and suggests that the virus may be able to hide from the immune system there.

The study authors believe the findings call into question current recommendations for Zika testing in pregnant women, which only recommend testing for presence of the virus within two weeks of an infection. Subsequent tests look for antibodies of the virus but not the virus itself.

Current recommendations do not include the use of MRI imaging tests, which are much more costly than ultrasounds and may not be accessible to pregnant women in countries with Zika transmission.

"What really matters is whether there is evidence of changes in the brain to suggest injury in the context of a proven viral infection in the mother," du Plessis said.

"That is where MRI is the gold standard for picking up changes in the brain, even though it has limitations in terms of availability and cost," du Plessis said.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Bernard Orr)