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Zhiyong Zhao, PhD

Academic Title:

Associate Professor

Primary Appointment:

Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences

Secondary Appointment(s):

BioChemistry&Molecular Biology


Bressler Research Building, 11-041

Phone (Primary):


Education and Training

1982    B.Sc. in Biology, Dalian Fisheries College (Dalian Ocean University), Dalian, China      

1985    M.Sc. in Zoology, South China Normal University, Guangzhou, China

1993    Ph.D. in Developmental Biology, University of Manchester, Manchester, England

1997    Postdoctoral Associate, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA

2000    Postdoctoral Associate, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT



Prior to joining the faculty of the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Dr. Zhao was an associate research scientist in the Department of Pediatrics at Yale University School of Medicine from 2000 to 2004 and assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences from 2004 to 2006.

Dr. Zhao's current research focuses on two areas: cardiovascular development and birth defects in diabetes-complicated pregnancies (known as diabetic embryopathy). In heart development, his laboratory aims to address the role of cell proliferation and programmed cell death (apoptosis) and regulation by growth factors (FGFs and BMPs) and intracellular signaling involving adenosine receptors, Rho GTPase, and Rho-associated coiled-coil kinases (ROCKs). In diabetic embryopathy, his laboratory focuses on phospholipid metabolism, intracellular calcium, endoplasmic reticulum stress, nitrosative stress, mitochondria/oxidative stress, and protein homeostasis in malformations in the central nervous and cardiovascular systems. His group has made significant contributions to the field, including identification of Caspase8 as a key apoptotic regulator, delineation of a novel of Caspase8 activation mechanism, unravel of endoplasmic reticulum stress, and discovery of aggregation of neurodegenerative disease-associated proteins. His research also moves toward developing interventional strategies to prevent birth defects in diabetic pregnancies, using chemical chaperones, protein aggregation inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, and phytochemicals. 

Research/Clinical Keywords

Cardiovascular development, birth defects, diabetic embryopathy, neural tube defects, heart defects, programmed cell death, adenosine receptor, GTPase, ROCK, phospholipid metabolism, intracellular calcium, endoplasmic reticulum stress, nitrosative stress, mitochondrion, protein folding, protein aggregation, phytochemicals

Highlighted Publications

Zhao Z, Cao L, Reece EA. (2017) Formation of neurodegenerative aggresome and death-inducing signaling complex in maternal diabetes-induced neural tube defects. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A; 114:4489-94.

Cao L, Tan C, Meng F, Liu P, Reece EA, Zhao Z. (2016) Amelioration of intracellular stress and reduction of neural tube defects in embryos of diabetic mice by phytochemical quercetin. Sci Rep; 6:21491.

Cao L, Liu P, Gill K, Reece EA, Cheema AK, Zhao Z. (2016) Identification of novel cell survival regulation in diabetic embryopathy via phospholipidomic profiling. Biochem Biophys Res Commun; 470:599-605.

Zhao Z, Eckert RL, Reece EA. (2012) Reduction in embryonic malformations and alleviation of endoplasmic reticulum stress by nitric oxide synthase inhibition in diabetic embryopathy. Reprod Sci; 19:823-31.

Zhao Z. (2012) Endoplasmic reticulum stress in maternal diabetes-induced cardiac malformations during critical cardiogenesis period. Birth Defects Res B Dev Reprod Toxicol; 95:1-6.

Zhao Z. (2010) Cardiac malformations and alteration of TGFβ signaling system in diabetic embryopathy. Birth Defects Res B Dev Reprod Toxicol; 89:97-105.

Zhao Z, Yang P, Eckert RL, Reece EA. (2009) Caspase-8: a key role in the pathogenesis of diabetic embryopathy. Birth Defects Res B Dev Reprod Toxicol; 86:72-7.

Zhao Z, Rivkees SA. (2004) Rho-associated kinases play a role in endocardial cell differentiation and migration. Dev Biol; 275:183-91.

Zhao Z, Rivkees SA. (2003) Rho-associated kinases play an essential role in cardiac morphogenesis and cardiomyocyte proliferation. Dev Dyn; 226:24-32.

Zhao Z, Rivkees SA. (2000) Programmed cell death in the developing heart: regulation by BMP4 and FGF2. Dev Dyn; 217:388-400.


Awards and Affiliations

2001            Young Investigator Award, the Eastern Society for Pediatric Research

2007            CDC’s Special Emphasis Panel on "Scientific, Technical and Operational Services for Epidemiology, Surveillance and Laboratory Programs”

2012            Ad-hoc member of NIH Pregnancy and Neonatology (PN) study section

2012            NIH EMNR Special Review Panel 

2013            Grant reviewer, The Israel Science Foundation

2013            Ad-hoc member of NIH Pregnancy and Neonatology (PN) study section

2014            NIH EMNR Special Review Panel 

2014            Grant reviewer, Czech Science Foundation

2016/7         NIH Special Review Panel 

2016/11       NIH Special Review Panel 

2017/3         NIH Special Review Panel 

2017            Ad-hoc member of NIH Cardiovascular Differentiation and Development (CDD) study section

2017            Grant reviewer, Health and Medical Research Fund, The Government of Hong Kong

2012-           Editorial Board, Journal of Biomolecular Research and Therapeutics

2013-           Editorial Board, Journal of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology

Grants and Contracts

NIH R01HD076245                                        Zhao (PI)                                  7/16/2013-4/30/2018

Protein Modifications and Unfolded Protein Response in Diabetic Embryopathy.                                                                                                    

NIH R03HD075995                                        Zhao (PI)                                 7/14/2014-6/30/2016

Targeting Nitrosative Stress to Prevent Fetal Anomalies in Diabetic Embryopathy.


NIH 3R01HD076245-03S1                             Zhao (PI)                                   5/1/2015-4/30/2016

Impact of sex of embryo on morphogenesis and therapy in diabetic pregnancy.

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