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Academic Staff

Professor LAI, Cora Sau Wan 賴秀芸

Professor LAI, Cora Sau Wan 賴秀芸

  • BSc, PhD (HKU)
  • Associate Professor
  • Associate Director (Teaching and Learning), School of Biomedical Sciences
L4-46, Laboratory Block, 21 Sassoon Road, Hong Kong
+852 3917 9266
+852 2855 9730
  • Synaptic plasticity in learning and memory
  • Role of interneurons in synaptic plasticity
  • Role of sleep in memory consolidation
  • Fear conditioning and fear extinction
  • Anxiety and depressive disorders

Dr. Cora Lai is an Associate Professor in the School of Biomedical Sciences, The University of Hong Kong. She obtained her bachelor and doctoral degrees at HKU. She later joined the Skirball Institute of Biomolecular Medicine in the Langone NYU Medical Center (New York, USA) for postdoctoral training. She has been working on intravital imaging of the mouse central nervous system in learning and memory, particularly in studying synaptic plasticity in fear associative learning and different psychiatric disease animal models with dendritic spine pathology.

What is memory? This is an important question that has not yet been fully answered. In the past century, researchers have conducted research from two different approaches: a top-down approach, which uses the learning behavior of animals to study the basis of memory acquisition, consolidation, and retrieval in different brain regions; or a bottom-up approach, which explores the codes and neural circuits that store memories by examining the firing patterns and synaptic transmission of neurons. Our laboratory utilizes both of the approaches mentioned above to investigate how the brain integrates, processes, and stores a wide range of information to modify behaviour. The ability to associate different information and environmental stimuli is one of the key factors for associative learning. However, it is still unclear how neural circuits integrate convergence signals during learning. Auditory fear conditioning is an associative learning paradigm that can serve as an ideal model to study the basic mechanisms of associative learning at the behavioural, circuitry, and molecular levels.

We use in vivo imaging, optogentics, chemogenetics, genetic manipulations, and behavioural approaches to understand synaptic plasticity, neural circuits, and the role of sleep in emotional learning, which will provide insight to help us to better understand the aetiology and therapeutic interventions development for psychiatric disorders such as depression, schizophrenia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and autism spectrum disorders.

Research pic of Cora Lai

  1. Fok, A.H.K., Huang, Y., So, B.W.L., Zheng, Q., Tse, C.S.C., Li, X., Wong, K.K.K., Huang, J., Lai, K.O., Lai, C.S.W. (2024) KIF5B plays important roles in dendritic spine plasticity and dendritic localization of PSD95 and FMRP in the mouse cortex in vivo. Cell Reports. 43(3):113906
  2. Jia, G., Sun, Y., An, P., Wu, W., Shen, Y., Liu, H., Shan, Y., Wang, J., Lai, C.S.W., Schreiner, C.E., He, H., Zhou, X. (2024) Auditory training remodels hippocampus-related memory in adult rats. Cerebral Cortex. 34 (2) : bhae045
  3. Weng, M., Hu, H., Graus, M.S., Tan, D.S., Gao, Y., Ren, S., Ho, D.H.H., Langer, J., Holzner, M., Huang, Y., Ling, G.S., Lai, C.S.W., Francois, M., Jauch R (2023) An engineered Sox17 induces somatic to neural stem cell fate transitions independently from pluripotency reprogramming. Science Advances. 9: eadh2501
  4. He, H., Dong, X., Ren, X., Lai, C.S.W., Tsia, K.K., Wong, K.K.K. (2022). Tomographic-Encoded Multiphoton Microscopy. ACS Photonics. 9(10), 3291–3301
  5. He, H., Tang, H., Zhou, M., Lai, H.M., Qiao, T., Ren, Y.-X., Lai, C.S.W., Ko, H., Wei, X., Yang, Z., Tsia, K.K., Wong, K.K.Y. (2022) Deep-tissue two-photon microscopy with a frequency-doubled all-fiber mode-locked laser at 937 nm. Advanced Photonics Nexus. 1(2): 026001
  6. Cheng, Y., Tang, B., Zhang, G., An, P., Sun, Y., Gao, M., Zhang, Y., Shan, Y., Zhang, J., Liu, Q., Lai, S.W.C., de Villers-Sidani, E., Wang, Y. and Zhou, X. (2022) Degraded cortical temporal processing in the valproic acid-induced rat model of autism. Neuropharmacology. 209, 109000.
  7. He H., Ren, Y., Chan, K.Y., So, W.L., Fok, H.K.A., Lai, S.W.C., Tsia, K.K.M., Wong, K.K.Y. (2021) Background-Free Volumetric Two-Photon Microscopy by Side-Lobes-Cancelled Bessel Beam, IEEE Journal of Selected Topics in Quantum Electronics. 27, 1-7.
  8. Adler, A.#, Lai, C.S.W.#, Yang, G., Geron, E., Bai, Y., Gan, W.-B. (2021) Sleep promotes the formation of dendritic filopodia and spines near learning-inactive existing spines. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 118 (50): e2114856118 (#Equal contribution.)
  9. Huang, Y., Zhang, H., Zhang, Q., Fok, A.H.K., Li, X.Y, Lau, C.G., Lai, C.S.W. (2021) Environmental enrichment or selective activation of parvalbumin-expressing interneurons ameliorates synaptic and behavioral deficits in animal models with schizophrenia-like behaviors during adolescence. Molecular Psychiatry. 26, 2533–2552.
  10. Jiang, H.-H., Guo, A., Chiu, A., Li, H., Lai, C.S.W., Lau, C.G. (2021) Target-specific control of piriform cortical output via distinct inhibitory circuits. FASEB Journal. 35(10), e21944.
  11. Chan, R.K.Y., He, H., Ren, Y., Lai, C.S.W., Lam, E.Y., Wong, K.K.Y. (2020) Axially resolved volumetric two-photon microscopy with extended field of view using depth localization under mirrored Airy beams. Optics Express. 28 (26): 39563-39573.
  12. Zhou, Y.#, Lai, C.S.W.#, Bai, Y., Zhao, R., Yang, G., Frank, M.G., Gan, W.-B. (2020) REM sleep promotes experience-dependent dendritic spine elimination in the mouse cortex. Nature Communications. 11, 4819. (#Equal contribution.)
  13. He, H., Kong, C., Chan, K.Y., So, W.L., Fok, H.K., Ren, Y.X., Lai, C.S.W., Tsia, K.K., Wong, K.K.Y. (2020) Resolution enhancement in an extended depth of field for volumetric two-photon microscopy. Opt. Lett. 45(11):3054-3057.
  14. Kong, C., Pilger, C., Hachmeister, H., Wei, X., Cheung, T., Lai, C.S.W., Lee, N. Tsia, K., Wong, K.K.Y., Huser, T. (2020) High contrast, fast chemical imaging by coherent Raman scattering using a self-synchronized two-color fiber laser. Light: Science & Applications. 9:25.
  15. Lin, L., Lyu, Q., Kwan, P.Y., Zhao, J., Fan, R., Chai, A., Lai, C.S.W., Chan, Y.S., Shen, X.,Lai, K.O. (2020) The epilepsy and intellectual disability-associated protein TBC1D24 regulates the maintenance of excitatory synapses and animal behaviors. PLOS Genetics. 16(1):e1008587. doi:10.1371/journal.pgen.1008587
  16. Zhao, J.#, Fok, A.H.K.#, Fan, R., Kwan, P.Y., Chan, H.L., Lo, L.H.Y., Chan, Y.S., Yung W.H., Huang, J., Lai, C.S.W.* and Lai, K.O.* (2020) Specific depletion of the motor protein KIF5B leads to deficits in dendritic transport, synaptic plasticity and memory. (#Equal contribution. *Corresponding authors.)eLife. 9:e53456.
    This work is being highlighted in Nature Reviews Neuroscience by the journal chief editor Darran Yates (2020 Feb 6. doi:10.1038/s41583-020-0272-8.) and selected for eLife digest.
  17. Chen, K., Zheng, Y., Wei, J., Ouyang, H., Huang, X., Zhang, F., Lai, C.S.W., Ren, C., So, K.-F., & Zhang, L. (2019) Exercise training improves motor skill learning via selective activation of mTOR. Science Advances. 5: eaaw1888.
  18. Shi, D.D., Huang, Y., Lai, C.S.W., Dong, C.M., Ho, L.C., Li, X.Y., Wu, E.X., Li, Q., Wang, X.M., Chen, Y.J., Chung, S.K., Zhang, Z.J. (2019) Ginsenoside Rg1 Prevents Chemotherapy-Induced Cognitive Impairment: Associations with Microglia-Mediated Cytokines, Neuroinflammation, and Neuroplasticity. Mol Neurobiol. 56(8):5626-5642.
  19. Tan, X.J., Kong, C., Ren, Y.X., Lai, C.S.W., Tsia, K.K., Wong, K.K.Y. (2019) Volumetric two-photon microscopy with a non-diffracting Airy beam. Opt. Lett. 44(2):391-394.
  20. Ng, L.H.L., Huang, Y., Chang, R.C.C., Lai, C.S.W. (2018) Ketamine and selective activation of parvalbumin interneurons inhibit stress-induced dendritic spine elimination. Transl. Psychiatry. 8:272.
  21. Lai, C.S.W.*, Adler, A., Gan, W.-B.* (2018) Fear extinction reverses dendritic spine formation induced by fear conditioning in the mouse auditory cortex. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 115(37):9306-9311. *Corresponding author.
  22. Shi, D.D., Huang, Y.H., Lai, C.S.W., Dong, C.M., Ho, L.C., Wu, E.X., Li, Q., Wang, X.M., Chung, S.K., Sham, P.C., Zhang, Z.J. (2018) Chemotherapy-Induced Cognitive Impairment Is Associated with Cytokine Dysregulation and Disruptions in Neuroplasticity. Mol. Neurobiol. 56(3):2234-2243.
  23. Kong, C., Pilger, C., Hachmeister, H., Wei, X., Cheung, T.H., Lai, C.S.W., Huser, T., Tsia, K.K., Wong, K.K.Y. (2017) Compact fs ytterbium fiber laser at 1010 nm for biomedical applications. Biomed. Opt. Express. 8(11):4921-4932.
  24. Chen, K., Zhang, L., Tan, M., Lai, C.S.W., Li, A., Ren, C., So, K.F. (2017) Treadmill exercise suppressed stress-induced dendritic spine elimination in mouse barrel cortex and improved working memory via BDNF/TrkB pathway. Transl. Psychiatry. 2017 Mar 21;7(3):e1069. PMID: 28323283
  25. Lai, C.S.W. (2014) Intravital imaging of dendritic spine plasticity. IntraVital. doi:10.4161/21659087.2014.984504. (Invited Review) PMID: 28243511 PMCID: PMC5226012
  26. Yang, G., Lai, C.S.W., Cichon, J., Ma, L., Li, W., Gan, W.-B. (2014) Sleep promotes branch-specific formation of dendritic spines after learning. Science. 344 (6188): 1173-1178.
  27. Fénelon, K., Xu, B.*, Lai, C.S.W.*, Mukai, J.*, Markx, S.*, Stark, K.L., Hsu, P.K., Gan, W.B., Fischbach, G.D., MacDermott, A.B., Karayiorgou, M., Gogos, J.A. (2013) The Pattern of Cortical Dysfunction in a Mouse Model of a Schizophrenia-Related Microdeletion. J. Neurosci 33, 14825-14839. (*Equal contribution.)
  28. Lai, C.S.W., Franke, T.F., Gan, W.-B. (2012) Opposite effects of fear conditioning and extinction on dendritic spines remodelling. Nature. 483, 87-91.
  1. Lai, C.S.W. (2021) Specific depletion of the motor protein KIF5B leads to deficits in dendritic transport, synaptic plasticity, and memory. 16th Meeting of the Asian-Pacific Society for Neurochemistry, Singapore (Virtual Conference).
  2. Lai, C.S.W. (2021) A lesson from the environmental enrichment: Parvalbumin interneurons as a key regulator for the yin and yang of the frontal cortex. NSFC-RGC Young Scholar Forum: Neural Basis of Decision Making and Social Behavior. State Key Laboratory of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, HKSAR.
  3. Lai, C.S.W. (2019) Dendritic spine plasticity and clustering in auditory-cued fear conditioning. China Association Physiological Sciences Annual Meeting, Nanjing, China.
  4. Lai, C.S.W. (2018) Effects of ketamine on dendritic spine plasticity in a mouse depression model. The 2018 HKCPsych International Mental Health Congress. Hong Kong, HKSAR.
  5. Lai, C.S.W. (2018) Wiring and re-wiring of the brain circuit: Dendritic spine plasticity in learning and memory. German-Hong Kong Symposium 2018: The Future of Biology. Castle Ringberg, Germany.
  6. Lai, C.S.W. (2015) Intraviral imaging of dendritic spines in learning and memory. The 6th Federation of Asian-Oceanian Neuroscience Societies (FAONS) Congress, Wuzhen, Zhejiang Province, China.
  7. Lai, C.S.W. (2015) In vivo imaging of learning and unlearning. Cold Spring Harbor Asia conference on “New Advances in Optical Imaging of Live Cells and Organisms”, Shuzhou, China.
  8. Lai, C.S.W. (2014) Fear conditioning and extinction induce opposing dendritic spine plasticity in neocortex.  The 12th Meeting of the Asian-Pacific Society for Neurochemistry, Kaohsiung, Taiwan.
  9. Lai, C.S.W. (2013) Opposite effects of fear conditioning and extinction on dendritic spines remodelling. Minisymposium. Society for Neuroscience, 43th Annual Meeting, San Diego, CA, USA.  
  • RGC/ECS (2015-2020)
  • NSFC-General program (2015-2019)
  • HMRF (2016-2018)
  • RGC/GRF (2018-2020)
  • RGC/GRF (2021-2023)
  • RGC/GRF (2022-2024)
  • NSFC/RGC JRS (2022-2025)
  • HMRF (2022-2025)
  • RGC/GRF (2023-2025)

We are seeking highly motivated research postgraduate students to work on learning and memory research in experimental animal models of genetics, psychiatric, and neurological disorders. Applicants must hold a degree of bachelor with First-Class Honours and/or a master with relevant background in neuroscience or biomedical sciences. To apply, please submit your resume to Dr Cora Lai (

For more details of postgraduate studies, please see the following webpages.

Last updated: 11 July 2024