Research Projects
Elucidating the Molecular Regulation of SNAIL2 Stability for Neural Crest Cells Undergoing Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition in Developing Chick Embryos

Programme(s) to which this project applies:

☑ MPhil/PhD ☒ MRes[Med] ☒ URIS

The epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) is a series of molecular events, in which epithelial cells are converted into migratory mesenchymal cells through loss of cell-cell adhesion and focal adhesion complex, and remodelling of acting dynamics. This process is crucial because it contributes to the formation of many tissues during embryonic development. Dysregulation of EMT could lead to fetal abnormalities and tumour metastasis. The neural crest (NC) is one of the most characterised and accessible experimental system for studying the genetic regulation of EMT. Neural crest cells (NCCs) originate from the dorsal neural tube and undergo EMT to acquire directional migratory behaviour toward the periphery, where they give rise to the craniofacial structures and periphery nervous system. Proper molecular regulation of EMT is essential for NC to acquire locomotion capabilities and for the subsequent differentiation process. The induction of the zinc-finger transcriptional repressor, SNAIL2, represents a key nexus in governing the onset of NC EMT. Homozygous deletions of SNAIL2 caused auditory-pigmentary symptoms in humans due to the inability of NCCs to migrate and differentiate into functional cell types for hearing and pigmentation. Mechanistically, SNAIL2 recruits repressive complexes to inhibit the expression of the adhesion molecule, Cad6B, to initiate NC EMT. However, SNAIL2 is a labile protein with a short half-life, moreover, the molecular mechanisms that regulate SNAIL2 stability during NC EMT are unknown. In this project, we aim to elucidate the molecular regulation of SNAIL2 stabilisation for proper EMT using chick embryos as the model organism, as dysregulation of this process can lead to defective NC development and human diseases.

Professor MCH Cheung, School of Biomedical Sciences

I obtained my bachelor's degree in the Department of Biochemistry at the Chinese University of Hong Kong with a first-class honour and then PhD in the University of Nottingham in UK Following postdoctoral training in the National Institute for Medical Research in UK, I returned to Hong Kong in 2007 to join the former Department of Biochemistry in HKU as a Research Assistant Professor and became Assistant Professor in the Department of Anatomy in Nov 2013.  I was promoted to Associate Professor with tenure in School of Biomedical Sciences since Nov 2019. My long-term research interest is to dissect the molecular mechanisms underlying the complex cell migration events using neural crest cells in chick embryo as a model system and determine whether similar regulatory control conferring neural crest migratory capacity also governs cancer metastasis.


For more information or to express interest for this project, please email the supervisor or the specified contact point in the project description.  Interested candidates are advised to enclose with your email:

  1. your CV,
  2. a brief description of your research interest and experience, and
  3. two reference letters (not required for HKUMed UG students seeking MRes[Med]/URIS projects).

Information on the research programme, funding support and admission documentations could be referenced online at the Research Postgraduate Admissions website. General admission enquiries should be directed to

HKUMed MBBS students interested in the Master of Research in Medicine (MRes[Med]) programme may visit the programme website for more information.  

HKUMed UG students interested in the Undergraduate Research Internship Scheme (URIS) may visit the scheme’s website for more information.