Seungil Ro, Ph.D.

Associate Professor and Director, Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology (CMPP) Graduate Program
Headshot of Seungil Ro


  • 2019-present Director, Cellular and Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology Graduate Program
  • 2015-present Associate Professor, Physiology & Cell biology
  • 2007-2015 Assistant Professor, Physiology & Cell biology
  • 2004-2007 Research Assistant Professor, Physiology & Cell biology
  • 2003-2004 Post-Doctoral Fellow, Physiology & Cell biology, UNR

Research interests

My research interest is studying the roles of epigenetic genes that control gut neuromuscular disorders. The gut is a vital organ as it is where food is digested, where nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream, and where undigested waste moves through and leaves the body. This digestive process is achieved by the synchronized movement (motility) of gastrointestinal (GI) muscles, which mixes food and propels the digested content through the GI tract.

Several cell types control GI motility: enteric nervous system (ENS), interstitial cells of Cajal (ICC), PDGFRα+ cells (fibroblast-like cells), and smooth muscle cells (SMC). ICC generates spontaneous electrical slow waves, ENS produces complex rhythmic motor behavior, and PDGFRα+ cells mediate enteric inhibitory responses, all of which control SMC, the final effectors for muscle contraction and muscle relaxation. In addition, enteroendocrine cells such as enterochromaffin (EC) cells secreting serotonin produce GI hormones or peptides that modulate GI motility and metabolic processes. Developmental abnormalities and pathophysiological damage of these cells are associated with GI motility disorders. Motility disorders are thought to be developed from the remodeling of the smooth muscle in the GI tract, leading to abnormal growth (hypertrophy or tumor) or death (myopathy) of the cells.

We have generated several animal models to study GI motility disorders, in which SMC, ICC, PDGFRα+ cells, and EC cells are labeled with Green Fluorescent Protein (GFP). The GFP labeled cells allow us to study genetic, cellular, and functional changes in designated cell types. We also study human patients with GI motility disorders in collaboration with several domestic and international institutes.   

In my lab, we have several studies we are working on or developing.

  1. Role of microRNAs in diabetes and gastroparesis
  2. Development of microRNA-mediated therapy for diabetes and gastroparesis
  3. Characterization of cellular heterogeneity of GI cells using single-cell RNA sequencing
  4. Development of smooth muscle genome, transcriptome and methylome browsers
  5. Role of serotonin in gastrointestinal motility disorders
  6. Role of microbial metabolites in diabetes and gastroparesis
  7. Adeno Associated Virus (AAV) mediated gene therapy for propionic acidemia 

Selected publications

  • Breland A*, Ha S*, Jorgensen BG*, Jin B, Gardner TA, Sanders KM, Ro S. Smooth Muscle Transcriptome Browser: offering genome-wide references of transcripts expressed in intestinal tissues and cells. Scientific Reports, 23;9(1):387, 2019 *Equally contributed
  • Jorgensen BG, Ro S. Role of DNA methylation in the development and differentiation of intestinal epithelial cells and smooth muscle cells. J Neurogastroenterol Motil, 25(3):377-386, 2019
  • Ha S, Wei L, Jorgensen BG, Lee MY, Park PJ, Poudrier SM, Ro S. A mouse model of intestinal partial obstruction. Journal of Visualized Experiments, 133, 2018
  • Jorgensen BG*, Berent RM*, Ha S*, Horiguchi K, Sasse KC, Becker LS, Ro S. DNA methylation, through DNMT1, has an essential role in the development of gastrointestinal smooth muscle cells and disease. *Equally contributed. Cell Death Dis, 9: 474, 2018
  • Lee MY, Park C, Ha S, Park PJ, Berent RM, Jorgensen BG, Corrigan R, Grainger N, Blair JP, Slivano OJ, Miano JM, Ward SM, Smith TK, Sanders KM, Ro S. Serum response factor regulates smooth muscle contractility via myotonic dystrophy protein kinases and L-type calcium channels. PLoS ONE, 12(2):e0171262, 2017
  • Lee MY*, Ha S*, Park C*, Park PJ, Fuchs R, Wei L, Jorgensen BG, Redelman D, Ward SM, Sanders KM, Ro S. Transcriptome of interstitial cells of Cajal reveals unique and selective gene signatures. PLoS ONE, 12(4):e0176031, 2017 *Equally contributed
  • Ha S, Lee MY, Kurahashi M, Wei L, Jorgensen BG, Park C, Park PJ, Redelman D, Sasse KC, Becker LS, Sanders KM, Ro S. Transcriptome analysis of PDGFRα+ cells identify T-type Ca2+ channel CACNA1G as a new pathological marker for PDGFRα+ cell hyperplasia. PLoS ONE, 12(8):e0182265, 2017
  • Ro S. Multi-Phenotypic Role of Serum Response Factor in the Gastrointestinal System. J Neurogastroenterol Motil, 22(2):193-200, 2016
  • Park C, Lee MY, Slivano OJ, Park PJ, Ha S, Berent RM, Fuchs R, Collins NC, Yu T, Syn H, Park JK, Horiguchi K, Miano JM, Sanders KM, Ro S. Loss of serum response factor induces microRNA-mediated apoptosis in intestinal smooth muscle cells. Cell Death Dis, 6:e2011. doi: 10.1038/cddis.2015.353, 2015
  • Park C*, Lee MY*, Park PJ, Ha S, Berent RM, Fuchs R, Miano JM, Becker LS, Sanders KM, Ro S. SRF is essential for prenatal gastrointestinal smooth muscle development and maintenance of differentiated phenotype. J Neurogastroenterol Motil, 21(4): 589-602, 2015 *Equally contributed

*Equally contributed


  • Ro S and Ewing NN. Promoter of the tomato expansion gene LeExp-1. U.S. Patent number 6,340,748, Issued January 22, 2002
  • Ro S. MiR-10 mimic and targets thereof for use in the treatment of diabetes and gastrointestinal motility disorders. U.S. Patent, provisional, 2019 

Technology Transfer

  • Ro S, Yan W and Sanders KM. Transgenic line B6.129S7- Kittm1Rosan/J transferred to The Jackson Laboratory. STOCK#15813, 2011 
  • Smooth Muscle Genome/Transcriptome/Methylome Databases
    • The databases are available.
    • UCSC Smooth Muscle Genome Browser: The UCSC Smooth Muscle Genome Browser is an interactive browser that was built with custom tracks of transcriptomes from intestinal smooth muscle, mucosa, as well as sorted cells (SMC, ICC, and PDGFRα+ cells) including CArGome [serum response factor (SRF) binding sites] reference sites. This browser provides a comprehensive reference for all transcriptional variants expressed in the cell populations, GI tissues, and genome-wide SRF binding sites. The browser can also interact with the genome bioinformatics (e.g. ENCODE) data publically available in the UCSC Genome Browser.
  • Smooth Muscle Transcriptome Browser: The Transcriptome Browser offers genome-wide genetic references that bring new insight into genetic structures, expression profiles, and isoforms of each individual gene expressed in the key cell populations for functional studies.
  • UCSC Smooth Muscle Methylome Browser: The UCSC Smooth Muscle Methylome Browser is an interactive browser that was built with custom tracks representing the methylome and transcriptome of Dnmt1-WT and Dnmt1-KO murine jejunal smooth muscle. This browser provides a comprehensive reference for genomic DNA methylation status at CpG sites in Dnmt1-WT and Dnmt1-KO. The browser can also interact with the genome bioinformatics (e.g. ENCODE) data publically available in the UCSC Genome Browser.

Principal lab members

  • Se Eun Ha PhD, Research Assistant Professor
  • Rajan Singh, PhD, Post-Doctoral Fellow
  • Lai (Lisa) Wei PhD, Post-Doctoral Fellow
  • Brian Jorgensen, PhD, Post-Doctoral Fellow
  • Byungchang Jin, Graduate Student (CMB)
  • Hannah Zogg, Graduate Student (CMB)
  • Allison Bartlett, Graduate Student (CMPP)
  • Ga-in Beak, Graduate Student (Wonkang University, South Korea)
  • Sandra Poudrier, Lab Manager (SRA II)

Other lab members

Medical students volunteers (2019)

  • Brooke Clemmensen
  • Robert Gullickson
  • Denise Julian
  • Charles Ronkon

Undergraduate thesis students and volunteers (2019)

  • Mirabel Dafinone, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (2016- present)
  • Yixin Huang, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (2019-present)
  • Evan Lipschultz, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
  • Kaitlyn Solomon, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (2017-2019)
  • Marielle Tedlos Chemistry with Premed emphasis (2019-present)


Medical students

Block 1: Foundations and Principles of Medical Sciences, CELL BIOL: Protein Synthesis, Modifications & Targeting, Molecular Biology and Forensics, Cell Renewal, Cell Death & Apoptosis

Graduate students

  • BCH 705: Translation, Using the Genetic Code, Molecular Genetics, Regulatory RNAs, and Epigenetic Effects
  • CMPP794 Journal Club:  Gastrointestinal motility disorders and related metabolic diseases
  • PCB 711: Genetic methods of physiological experimentation

Undergraduate students

  • BIO298, 491, 492 Independent Study
  • BCH 407/408 Senior Thesis



  • Ph.D., Cell & Molecular Biology, University of Nevada, Reno, 2002
  • M.S., Biological Sciences, California State University, Sacramento, 1999
  • M.S., Molecular Biology, Wonkwang University, Korea, 1994
  • B.S., Molecular Biology, Wonkwang University, Korea, 1992