Research Projects
Roles of Small GTPase RagA in Depression and Neurodegenerative Diseases (e.g. Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease)

Programme(s) to which this project applies:

☑ MPhil/PhD ☒ MRes[Med] ☒ URIS

Depression and neurodegeration are two highly prevalent and deleterious illnesses, especially in elderly populations world-wide. The long-term objective of the present study is to discover the potential of Chinese medicines for effective treatment of depression and neurodegerative diseases. Our recent studies demonstrated that isoflavone puerarin could downregulate the expression of small GTPase RagA in LPS-treated cells and mice. Rag GTPases sense intracellular glucose and amino acids sufficiency for mammalian target of rapamycin complex 1 (mTORC1) pathway. Rag GTPases form heterodimers (i.e., RagA/RagB; RagC/RagD) to control the lysosomal recruitment and activation of mTORC1 (19, 20). Upon activation, mTORC1 triggers cell signals via two downstream substrates, p70S6 kinase (p70S6K) and eukaryotic initiation factor 4E-binding protein 1 (4EBP1), to regulate pain response, cognitive function and neuropsychiatric conditions. mTORC1 is well recognised as target for the development of analgesic and antidepressant drugs. Moreover, RagA expression is tightly controlled in mammals. RagA deletion is lethal in adult mice while RagA knock-in causes early death of the newborn mice. Thus, the present project will evaluate the potential of RagA as atherapeutic target for the treatment of depression and neurodegenerative diseases (e.g., Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease)

Dr JH Rong, School of Chinese Medicine

Dr Jianhui Rong is currently an Associate Professor in molecular pharmacology on Chinese medicine at School of Chinese Medicine, University of Hong Kong. Dr Rong received his PhD in Medical Biochemistry from Uppsala University, Sweden, conducted postdoctoral research at University of Alberta, Canada and visiting scholar research at School of Medicine, Yale University, USA. Since 2005, he has served as Research Assistant Professor, Assistant Professor and Associate Professor at Li Ka Shing Faculty of Medicine and School of Chinese Medicine, University of Hong Kong. Dr Rong’s research focus on the research and development of drug candidates from Chinese medicines and the discovery of basic molecular mechanisms for the treatment of neurological diseases, myocardial infarction and obesity. Dr RONG mainly use modern transcriptomics, proteomics, cell signalling technology and biotin-labelling of small molecule probes to study the protein targets and biological activity of Chinese medicines. For example, Dr RONG has discovered specific Chinese medicine compounds for regulating heme oxygenase-1 (HO-1), leukotriene B4 12-hydroxy dehydrogenase (LTB4DH), arginase 2 (Arg2), and pyruvate kinase M2 (PKM2) and endoplasmic reticulum stress protein GRP78. He has chaired over or participated in more than 30 research grants from Hong Kong Research Grants Council, Hong Kong Health and Medical Research Fund, Hong Kong Science and Technology Innovation Fund, National Natural Science Foundation of China and the Seed Research Fund of the University of Hong Kong; obtained several international patents, US patents, Chinese patents; and published more than 70 SCI papers in internationally renowned journals such as Chemical Science, Journal of Controlled Release, Molecular Neurobiology, ACS Chemical Neuroscience, Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, Molecular Immunology, Neuropharmacology and Biochemical Journal. Dr Rong also serves as the executive member or committee member for several academic organisations, and reviewer for several international academic journals.


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.