Charleen T. Chu, MD, PhD
Professor of Pathology
A. Julio Martinez Chair in Neuropathology

Dr. Chu is Director of the Ophthalmic Pathology Service in the Division of Neuropathology and Co-Director of the Pathologist Investigator Residency/Research Training Program. As principal investigator, she directs a basic research program focused on mitochondrial pathobiology and Parkinson's disease, and is training faculty for the Pathology and Neuroscience Graduate programs, the MSTP and the PSTP. She is also a member of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and the Mitochondria, Metabolism and Disease Working Group.
Office Location:
W958 BST
200 Lothrop St
Pittsburgh, PA 15213
Contact Information:
Office Telephone: 412-383-5379

Clinical office (Tuesday mornings only)
Room M8605/M8607 South Tower
Clinical coordinator:
Christina Romanello

Clinical Expertise

Dr. Chu is director of the ophthalmic pathology service. For information on submitting specimens, visit the Eye Consults page. For information on training in academic neuropathology or ophthalmic pathology, visit the Neuropathology website.

Research Interests

Dr. Chu's Lab Home Page

2010 Carnegie Science Awards Profile of Dr. Chu's Research

Cell Biology of Parkinson's Disease: Mitochondrial Quality Control, Kinase Signaling & Autophagy

Dr. Chu's research focuses on mechanisms of neurodegeneration and neuroprotection in Parkinson's and related neurodegenerative diseases. A major focus is delineating why adaptive cellular mechanisms fail to protect neurons. Molecular and biochemical studies in cell culture and mouse models are integrated with studies of diseased human brain tissues. Recent focus has shifted from cell death to mechanisms of mitochondrial quality control and neuritic/synaptic dysfunction at potentially reversible stages.

Work in the Chu laboratory indicates that pathogenic mechanisms related to five models of PD converge on dysregulation of mitochondrial kinase signaling and turnover by autophagy, the process by which cells sequester, degrade and recycle organelles. These include 6-OHDA and MPP+, two parkinsonian neurotoxins, and genetic models based on mutations in PTEN-induced kinase 1 (PINK1), a mitochondrial kinase, the leucine-rich repeat kinase 2 (LRRK 2), a membrane associated multidomain kinase, and ATP13A2, a lysosomal transporter by homology. Analysis of Parkinson disease and Lewy body dementia brain tissues reveal similar alterations in the localization and trafficking of phosphorylated kinases and transcription factors, associated with mitochondrial autophagy, in susceptible populations of neurons early in the disease process.

While there has been growing interest in therapeutic manipulation of autophagy, the potential beneficial or detrimental roles of autophagy in neuronal responses to parkinsonian injury remain undefined. Our work has led to the concept of "autophagic stress," in which imbalanced or excessive induction of autophagy contributes to neuronal dysfunction. We found that PINK1 is essential for maintaining well-functioning mitochondrial networks, and its loss of function results in mitochondrial ROS that triggers compensatory fission and mitophagy responses. Using phosphoproteomic mass spectrometry, we recently identified a novel phosphorylation site on the autophagy protein LC3, with important suppressive effects on neurite degeneration caused by either MPP+ or mutant LRRK2. We have further discovered that mutant LRRK2 causes early dysregulation of post-synaptic mitochondrial homeostasis and function that precede autophagic neurite degeneration. Current efforts include defining novel phosphorylation sites and signals that regulate selective mitophagy and mitochondrial biogenesis.


Protein biochemistry, molecular cell biology, mass spectrometry and phospho-proteomics, quantitative RT-PCR, immunochemistry, multi-label confocal microscopy, electron microscopy, stereotactic brain injections, RNA interference.

Educational Initiatives

Dr. Chu is a member of the Graduate Programs of Cellular and Molecular Pathology (CMP) and Center for Neuroscience (CNUP), the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) and the Physician Scientist Training Program (PSTP). She is committed to career development of pre-doctoral, post-doctoral and physician-scientist trainees, developing and directing for 10 years a MSTP Professional Development course focused on grant writing and peer-review, which is now emulated by other MSTP and graduate programs nationwide. She is founding co-director for the Pathologist Investigator Residency/Research Training Program. This "PI-training track" is designed to develop the next generation of physician-scientist leaders, independently-funded Academic Pathologists pursuing combined research and diagnostic careers.

Selected Publications

View Dr. Chu's recent publications on PubMed
View Dr. Chu's previous publications on PubMed

CT Chu, J Ji, RK Dagda et al. (2013) Cardiolipin externalization to the outer mitochondrial membrane acts as an elimination signal for mitophagy in neuronal cells. Nature Cell Biol 15:1197-1205. DOI: 10.1038/ncb2837

SJ Cherra III, E Steer, AM Gusdon, K Kiselyov & CT Chu. (2013) Mutant LRRK2 elicits calcium imbalance and depletion of dendritic mitochondria in neurons. Am J Pathol, 182: 474-484.

J Zhu, A Gusdon, H Cimen, B Van Houten, E Koc & CT Chu (2012) Impaired mitochondrial biogenesis contributes to depletion of functional mitochondria in chronic MPP+ toxicity. Cell Death Dis 3: e312. doi: 10.1038/cddis.2012.46. PMCID: PMC3366080

AM Gusdon, J Zhu, B Van Houten & CT Chu. (2012) ATP13A2 regulates mitochondrial bioenergetics through macroautophagy. Neurobiol Dis 45: 962-972.

RK Dagda, A Gusdon, I Pien, S Strack, S Green, B Van Houten, SJ Cherra III & CT Chu. (2011) Mitochondrially localized PKA reverses mitochondrial pathology and dysfunction in a cellular model of Parkinson's disease. Cell Death Differ 18: 1914-1923.

SJ Cherra III, SM Kulich, G Uechi, M Balasubramani, J Mountzouris, BW Day & CT Chu. (2010) Regulation of the autophagy protein LC3 by phosphorylation. J. Cell. Biol. 190: 533-539. F1000 Recommended: Eui-Ju Choi: Faculty of 1000 Biology, 21 Sep 2010

RK Dagda, SJ Cherra III, SM Kulich, A Tandon, D Park & CT Chu. (2009) Loss of PINK1 function promotes mitophagy through effects on oxidative stress and mitochondrial fission. J Biol Chem 284: 13843-13855.F1000 Recommended: Mark A Smith: Faculty of 1000 Medicine, 13 Apr 2010

Selected Books, Reviews, and Clinical Aritcles

Z Yue & CT Chu, Editors. (2012) Autophagy of the Nervous System: Cellular Self-Digestion in Neurons and Neurological Diseases. World Scientific Press, Singapore, 2012. 440 pp. ISBN 978-981-4350-44-0. Available at World Scientific and Amazon.

E Oczypok, TD Oury & CT Chu. (2013) Its a cell eat cell world: Autophagy and phagocytosis. Am J Pathol 182: 612-622.

JE Knickelbein, J Kovarik, DK Dhaliwal & CT Chu. (2013) Acanthamoeba keratitis: A clinico-pathologic case report and review of the literature. Human Pathol, 44: 918-922.