Fei Zhao, Ph.D.


Department of Comparative Biosciences
Office: 4152

Fei Zhao, Ph.D.

Titles and Education

  1. B.E. Bioengineering, China University of Mining and Technology-Beijing, 2009
  2. Ph.D. in Toxicology, University of Georgia (Dr. Xiaoqin Ye's lab), 2014
  3. Postdoctoral training in Reproductive and Developmental Biology, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (Dr. Humphrey Yao's lab), 2014-2019


Our lab aims to understand cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying sexual differentiation of reproductive tracts. Before sexual differentiation, both primitive male and female reproductive tracts co-exist in an embryo. During sexual differentiation, the embryo eliminates one of the two primitive tracts and maintains exclusively the one matching to its sex. The retained sex-specific tract eventually differentiates into a functional organ in the adult reproductive system. Sexual differentiation and function of reproductive tracts are regulated/influenced by actions of sex hormones. Therefore, during differentiation, the male and female reproductive tract must acquire/develop proper responsiveness to sex hormones; environmental chemicals mimicking sex hormones can have adverse effects on reproductive tract differentiation. We are particularly interested in and focus on understanding mechanisms underlying the above phenomena:

  1. How are sex-specific fates of two primitive reproductive tracts regulated?
  2. How does the male and female reproductive tract acquire/develop proper responsiveness to male and female sex hormones, respectively?
  3. How do environmental chemicals that interfere with sex hormone signaling affect reproductive tract differentiation?

We address these questions by utilizing transgenic and conditional knockout mouse models, ex vivo organ culture, gene/protein expression analyses, genomic and single-cell technologies. Disruptions in reproductive tract differentiation can lead to disorders of sex development and jeopardize an individual’s future reproductive potential. Our research will provide fundamental knowledge for the development of better strategies for prevention, diagnosis and treatment of related disorders of sex development and reproductive diseases.

Lab Website https://zhaolab.vetmed.wisc.edu/


Assistant Professor 

Department of Comparative Biosciences

Recent Publications

    1. Jia S, Wilbourne J, Crossen MJ, Zhao F. Morphogenesis of the female reproductive tract along antero-posterior and dorso-ventral axes is dependent on Amhr2+ mesenchyme in mice. Biol Reprod. 2022. Epub 2022/09/22. doi: 10.1093/biolre/ioac179. PubMed PMID: 36130202. (Senior and corresponding author)
    2. Jia S, Zhao F. Ex vivo development of the entire mouse fetal reproductive tract by using microdissection and membrane-based organ culture techniques. Differentiation. 2022;123:42-9. Epub 2022/01/15. doi: 10.1016/j.diff.2022.01.001. PubMed PMID: 35030420. (Senior and corresponding author)
    3. Zhao F, Grimm SA, Jia S, Yao HH. Contribution of the Wolffian duct mesenchyme to the formation of the female reproductive tract. PNAS Nexus. 2022;1(4):pgac182. Epub 2022/10/08. doi: 10.1093/pnasnexus/pgac182. PubMed PMID: 36204418; PMCID: PMC9523451. (First and co-corresponding author)
    4. Amato CM, Yao HH, Zhao FOne Tool for Many Jobs: Divergent and Conserved Actions of Androgen Signaling in Male Internal Reproductive Tract and External GenitaliaFrontiers in Endocrinology. 2022;13:910964. Epub 2022/07/19. doi: 10.3389/fendo.2022.910964. PubMed PMID: 35846302; PMCID: PMC9280649
  1. Zhao F, Grimm SA, Yao HH.  Molecular Actions Underlying Wolffian Duct Regression in Sexual Differentiation of Murine Reproductive Tracts, Sexual Differentiation. 2021(PMID: 33684916)
  2. Zhao F, Yao HH. A tale of two tracts: history, current advances, and future directions of research on sexual differentiation of reproductive tracts†. Biol Reprod. 2019 Sep 1;101(3):602-616. doi: 10.1093/biolre/ioz079. PubMed PMID: 31058957; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC6791057.
  3. Zhao F, Franco HL, Rodriguez KF, Brown PR, Tsai MJ, Tsai SY, Yao HH. Elimination of the male reproductive tract in the female embryo is promoted by COUP-TFII in mice. Science. 2017 Aug 18;357(6352):717-720. doi: 10.1126/science.aai9136. PubMed PMID: 28818950; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5713893.
  4. Zhao F, Zhou J, Li R, Dudley EA, Ye X. Novel function of LHFPL2 in female and male distal reproductive tract development. Sci Rep. 2016 Mar 11;6:23037. doi: 10.1038/srep23037. PubMed PMID: 26964900; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4786858.
  5. Zhao F, Zhou J, El Zowalaty AE, Li R, Dudley EA, Ye X. Timing and recovery of postweaning exposure to diethylstilbestrol on early pregnancy in CD-1 mice. Reprod Toxicol. 2014 Nov;49:48-54. doi: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2014.07.072. Epub 2014 Jul 22. PubMed PMID: 25062584; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4303565.
  6. Zhao F, Li R, Xiao S, Diao H, El Zowalaty AE, Ye X. Multigenerational exposure to dietary zearalenone (ZEA), an estrogenic mycotoxin, affects puberty and reproduction in female mice. Reprod Toxicol. 2014 Aug;47:81-8. doi: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2014.06.005. Epub 2014 Jun 24. PubMed PMID: 24972337; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4137769.
  7. Xiao S, Li R, El Zowalaty AE, Diao H, Zhao F, Choi Y, Ye X. Acidification of uterine epithelium during embryo implantation in mice. Biol Reprod. 2017 Jan 1;96(1):232-243. doi: 10.1095/biolreprod.116.144451. PubMed PMID: 28395338; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC5803771.
  8. Diao H, Li R, El Zowalaty AE, Xiao S, Zhao F, Dudley EA, Ye X. Deletion of Lysophosphatidic Acid Receptor 3 (Lpar3) Disrupts Fine Local Balance of Progesterone and Estrogen Signaling in Mouse Uterus During Implantation. Biol Reprod. 2015 Nov;93(5):123. doi: 10.1095/biolreprod.115.131110. Epub 2015 Oct 7. PubMed PMID: 26447143; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4712008.
  9. Li R, Diao H, Zhao F, Xiao S, El Zowalaty AE, Dudley EA, Mattson MP, Ye X. Olfactomedin 1 Deficiency Leads to Defective Olfaction and Impaired Female Fertility. Endocrinology. 2015 Sep;156(9):3344-57. doi: 10.1210/en.2015-1389. Epub 2015 Jun 24. PubMed PMID: 26107991; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4541623.
  10. Li R, Zhao F, Diao H, Xiao S, Ye X. Postweaning dietary genistein exposure advances puberty without significantly affecting early pregnancy in C57BL/6J female mice. Reprod Toxicol. 2014 Apr;44:85-92. doi: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2013.12.003. Epub 2013 Dec 21. PubMed PMID: 24365114; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC4004695.
  11. Xiao S, Diao H, Zhao F, Li R, He N, Ye X. Differential gene expression profiling of mouse uterine luminal epithelium during periimplantation. Reprod Sci. 2014 Mar;21(3):351-62. doi: 10.1177/1933719113497287. Epub 2013 Jul 24. PubMed PMID: 23885106; PubMed Central PMCID: PMC3936419.
  12. The complete list of publications can be found https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/myncbi/1-U1aaBqi6qAe/bibliography/public/