Explore This Lab


The Laboratory of Xu Wu, PhD, at Massachusetts General Hospital is interested in using chemical biology and functional genomics to investigate cell signaling pathways that are involved in the regulation of stem cell fate and tumorigenesis, as well as essential cellular functions such as terminal differentiation, senescence and quiescence. Our goal is to discover novel therapeutic targets and agents for the treatment of degenerative diseases and cancers.

More information can also be found at xwulab.org.

Research Projects

Chemical Biology and Functional Genomics of Regeneration and Cancer

One of the important aspects of life science research is to understand human diseases at the molecular level and develop therapeutics targeting the disease relevant gene products. It remains challenging to develop new therapeutics with a traditional “target-based” approach, mainly because many of the disease relevant genes are not easily “druggable,” and many human diseases are highly complex and involve multiple factors. It is difficult, and maybe unrealistic, to identify a “magic bullet” for such diseases. Therefore, it would be important to develop new strategies to understand cellular signaling networks and how they are “rewired” in diseases. Such work might reveal the critical “nodes” of the signaling network, allowing the development of effective therapeutics. Our group is interested in using chemical and functional genomics approaches to study signaling networks and cellular processes in diseases, aiming to discover novel chemical modulators and pharmacologically validate new therapeutic targets for cancer and degenerative diseases.

1. Chemical Approaches for Posttranslational Protein Palmitoylation

The covalent attachment of lipid moieties is an essential modification of proteins. S-palmitoylation is a dynamic and reversible process. Cys-rich DHHC-family of palmitoyl acyltransferases (PATs) have been shown to catalyze palmitoylation, and other protein acyl transferase might also exist. Dynamic palmitoylation of proteins has been linked to the regulation of membrane attachment, trafficking and signaling activities of membrane bound receptors, kinases and G-proteins.

Although palmitoylation is an important posttranslational modification, the detailed mechanisms and its function in signal transduction are largely unknown due to the lack of proper tools and probes to dissect this process. There are at least 23 DHHC containing PATs in human genome and their functions are elusive.

To this end, we are interested in using combinatorial synthesis, affinity-based proteomics and medicinal chemistry to address the key questions of this modification: 1) What are the substrates for each of the PATs and are there other proteins that catalyze such reaction? 2) What are the functions of dynamic palmitoylation in signal transduction? 3) Can we develop specific inhibitors for PATs and acyl-protein thioesterases (APTs) to dissect the dynamic regulations?

2. Chemical Approaches to Dissect Signal cross-talking and “Rewiring” in Degenerative Diseases and Cancer

Cellular behaviors are regulated by a complex network of signal transduction pathways. The precise coordination and orchestration of multiple signaling pathways are essential for proper cellular functions. In diseases like cancer, oncogenic events often “rewire” the signaling network, resulting aberrant cell growth, survival and motility through non-canonical signaling cascades. Identification of small molecule tools that regulate the “nodes” of the crosstalk would be very important to understand the “rewired” signaling network and develop novel and effective therapeutics.

One essential question that we would like to understand is how cell growth is coordinated through multiple signals including growth factors, cell-cell contact and nutrients. We developed high throughput screening strategies to interrogate the signaling networks involving Hedgehog, Wnt and Hippo signaling and their interactions with other key signaling pathways. We are developing novel chemical modulators of these networks and pharmacologically validating novel therapeutic targets for cancer and degenerative diseases.

3. Chemical and functional genomic approaches for cellular senescence and terminal differentiation

Cellular senescence is characterized as irreversible cell cycle exit as a result of cells reaching their proliferation limit or under oncogenic stress and is often linked to aging and serves as a barrier for oncogenic transformation. Small molecule and genetic factors that modulate cellular senescence and terminal differentiation would be useful to reveal novel mechanisms underlying these processes and provide new therapeutic approaches for cancer.

We are interested in discovering new chemical tools that modulate cellular senescence, reinstall oncogene-induced senescence in cancer cells and induction of terminal differentiation of stem cells, progenitors and cancer cells. We will investigate the mode of action of these tools and pharmacologically validate the new targets.

Lab Members

Xu Wu, PhD
Principal Investigator, Mass General
Assistant Professor, Harvard Medical School
BS Chemistry, Peking University
MS Biological Chemistry, University of Pennsylvania
PhD Chemistry, The Scripps Research Institute
Before joining the faculty of MGH/HMS, Xu was a PI and Director of Biological Chemistry at Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation (GNF) for 6 years. He has been working on chemical biology and drug discovery for regenerative medicine and cancer.

Michael DeRan, Ph.D
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
B.S. Biochemistry, St. Bonaventure University
M.S. Biochemistry, University of Rochester
Ph.D. Biochemistry,  University of Rochester
Michael finished his Ph.D in Biochemistry at Prof. Jiyong Zhao’s lab at University of Rochester. His Ph.D work was focused on NPAT-mediated transcriptional regulation of histone gene during cell cycle, and the function of NPAT in DNA damage. Michael is now investigating the signaling crosstalks of Hippo pathway and other essential signaling pathways using chemical tools. 

Baohui Zheng, Ph.D
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
B.S. and M.S. Chemistry, Nankai University
Ph.D. Organic Chemistry,  Shanghai Institute of Organic Chemistry (SIOC), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS)
Baohui was trained as an organic chemist at Prof. Xue-Long Hou’s lab at SIOC/CAS. His Ph.D work was focused on Pd-Catalyzed asymmetric allylic substitution reaction. Baohui is now working on medicinal chemistry and chemical biology of novel modulators of pathways that controls stem cell fate and tumorigenesis.

Xinyan Li, Ph.D
Visiting Scholar/Research Fellow
B.A, Medicine, Nanjing Medical University
M.A. Pharmacology, Dalian Medical University
Ph.D. Pharmacology, China Pharmaceutical University
Xinyan is a visiting scholar from Shanghai Jiaotong University. She worked on high throughput screening and mechanistic studies of liver cirrhosis before. Her current work is to develop novel chemical biology tools to study Hedgehog and Hippo pathways and protein palmitoylation.


Selected Publications

1. Haiyan Tao, Qihui Jin, Dong?In Koo, Xuebing Liao, Nathan P. Englund, Yan Wang, Peter G. Schultz, Marion Dorsch, Joseph Kelleher, and Xu Wu*. “Small Molecule Antagonists in Distinct Binding Modes Inhibit Drug Resistant Mutant of Smoothened” 2011, Chemistry & Biology, 18, 1-6.

2. Jun Liu, Kristen Johnson, Jie Li, Victoria Piamonte, Brian M. Steffy, Mindy Hsieh, Nicholas Ng, Jay Zhang, John R. Walker, Sheng Ding, Ken Muneoka, Xu Wu, Richard Glynne, Peter G. Schultz*. “A Regenerative Phenotype in Mice with a Point Mutation in TGFBR1” 2011, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. Submitted.

3. Silvia Buonamici, Juliet Williams, Anlai Wang, Ribo Guo, Anthony Vattay, Kathy Hsiao, Jing Yuan, John Green, Lance Ostrom, Paul Fordjour, Dustin L. Anderson, Michael Morrissey, John E. Monahan, Joseph F. Kelleher, Stefan Peukert, Shifeng Pan, Xu Wu, Sauveur?Michel Maira, Carlos Garcia?Echeverria, Kimberly J. Briggs, D. Neil Watkins, Yungmae Yao, Christoph Lengauer, Markus Warmuth, William R. Sellers, Marion Dorsch*. “Targeting resistance to Smoothened antagonists by inhibiting the PI3K pathway.” Science Translational Medicine, 2010, 2, 51ra70.

4. Hans Skvara, Frank Kalthoff, Marion Dorsch, Joseph Kelleher, Xu Wu, Shifeng Pan, Lesanka Mickel, Christopher Schuster, Georg Stary, Ahmad Jalili, Olivier David, Ana Monica Costa Antunes, Arthur P. Bertolino, Anton Stuetz, Kristine Rose, Georg Stingl, Menno A. De Rie* “Topical treatment of Basal cell carcinomas, occurring in patients with Gorlin’s syndrome, with a Smoothened inhibitor” Journal of Investigative Dermatology, 2011, published online on March 22, doi:10.1038/jid.2011.48

5. Xiaoyi V. Hu, Tania M. A. Rodrigues, Haiyan Tao, Robert K. Baker, Loren Miraglia, Anthony P. Orth, Gary E. Lyons*, Peter G. Schultz* and Xu Wu*, “A Functional Genomics Screen Identifies RNF4 as a Regulator of DNA Demethylation” 2010, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 107(34):15087-92

6. Shifeng Pan*, Xu Wu, Jiqing Jiang, Wenqi Gao, Yongqin Wan, Dai Cheng, Dong Han, Jun Liu, Nathan P. Englund, Yan Wang, Stefan Peukert, Karen Miller?Moslin, Jing Yuan, Ribo Guo, Melissa Matsumoto, Anthony Vattay, Yun Jiang, Jeffrey Tsao, Fangxian Sun, AnneMarie C. Pferdekamper, Stephanie Dodd, Tove Tuntland, Wieslawa Maniara, Joseph F. Kelleher, III, Yung?mae Yao, Markus Warmuth, Juliet Williams and Marion Dorsch, “Discovery of NVP? LDE225, a Potent and Selective Smoothened Antagonist” ACS Med. Chem. Lett. Published online, 2010, DOI: 10.1021/ml10003077.

7. Yahua Liu, Qiang Ding and Xu Wu* “Concise Regiospecific Synthesis of 5?chloropyrido[4,3? d]pyrimidin?4(3H)?one” Synthesis, 2010, No. 1, 0030–0032x

8. Xu Wu and Peter G. Schultz* “Synthesis at the Interface of Chemistry and Biology” Journal of the American Chemical Society, 2009; 131(35):12497?515.

This paper is the first JACS Perspectives published in 130 yrs history of the flagship journal of American Chemical Society.

JACS Perspectives is a new series of review articles for JACS to capture the new concepts and interdisciplinary chemical research.

Highlighted by JACS editor. J. Am. Chem. Soc., 2009, 131 (35).

Highlighted in Chemical & Engineering News.

9. Shoutian Zhu, Heiko Wurdak, Yan Wang, Anna Galkin, Haiyan Tao, Jie Li, Costas Lyssiotis, Feng Yan, Bu Tuu, Loren Miraglia, John Walker, Fanxiang Sun, Anthony Orth, Jennifer Harris, Peter G. Schultz* and Xu Wu* “A genomic screen identifies TYRO3 as a MITF regulator in melanoma ” Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009; 106(40):17025?30

10. Shoutian Zhu, Heiko Wurdak, Jian Wang, Costas A. Lyssiotis, Eric C. Peters, Charles Cho, Xu Wu*, and Peter G. Schultz* “A Small Molecule Primes Embryonic Stem Cells for Differentiation” Cell Stem Cell 2009; 4(5):416?426.

Highlighted in Nature Chemical Biology 5, 456­457 (2009). Endowing Endoderm.
Highlighted in Cell Stem Cell 4, 373­374 (2009). Using Small Molecules to Great Effect in Stem Cell Differentiation.

Highlighted in Molecular Interventions 9, 167 (2009). Stauprimide: A Small Molecule Directs Stem Cells to Differentiate.

11. Weidong Wang, John R. Walker, Xia Wang, Matthew S. Tremblay, Jae Wook Lee, Xu Wu, and Peter G. Schultz* “Identification of small?molecule inducers of pancreatic β?cell expansion” Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009;106(5):1427?32.

12. Yahua Liu, Qiang Ding and Xu Wu* “Rearrangement of N,N?Di?tert?butoxycarbonyl?pyridin?4? amines and Formation of Polyfunctional Pyridines” The Journal of Organic Chemistry 2008; 73(15):6025?8.

13. Jongkook Lee, Xu Wu, Maria Pasca di Magliano, Eric C. Peters, Yan Wang, Jiyong Hong, Matthias Hebrok, Sheng Ding, Charles Y. Cho, Peter G. Schultz. “A Small?Molecule Antagonist of the Hedgehog Signaling Pathway.” Chembiochem. 2007; 8(16):1916?1919.

14. Costas A. Lyssiotis, John Walker, Chunlei Wu, Toru Kondo, Peter G. Schultz* and Xu Wu* “Inhibition of Histone Deacetylase Activity Induces Developmental Plasticity in Oligodendrocyte Precursor Cells” Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 104(38):14982?7.

Highlighted in Cell 131, 197­198 (2007). Leading Edge: Glial Precursors Break Their Commitment.

15. Yibing Qyang, Silvia Martin?Puig, Murali Chiravuri, Shuibing Chen, Huansheng Xu, Lei Bu, Xin Jiang, Lizhu Lin, Anne Granger, Alessandra Moretti, Leslie Caron, Xu Wu, Jonathan Clarke,Makoto M. Taketo, Karl?Ludwig Laugwitz, Randall T. Moon, Peter Gruber, Sylvia M. Evans, Sheng Ding, and Kenneth R. Chien* “The Renewal and Differentiation of Isl1+ Cardiovascular Progenitors Are Controlled by a Wnt/β?Catenin Pathway" Cell Stem Cell, 2007 16;1(2):165?79.

16. Jun Liu, Xu Wu, Brian Mitchell, Chris Kintner, Sheng Ding and Peter G. Schultz* “Small Molecule Agonists of the Wnt Signaling Pathway” Angew. Chem. Int. Ed.2005. 44. 2?4.

17. Xu Wu, John Walker, Jie Zhang, Sheng Ding and Peter G. Schultz* “Purmorphamine Induces Osteogenesis by Activation of Hedgehog Signaling Pathway” Chemistry & Biology, 2004, 11(9), 1229?38.

This work has been reported by many news agencies, including Bio.com, and has been reviewed in several renowned scientific journals.

18. Shuibing Chen, Qisheng Zhang, Xu Wu, Peter G. Schultz*, and Sheng Ding* “Dedifferentiation of Lineage?Committed Cells by a Small Molecule” Journal of the American Chemical Society, 2004, 126 (2), pp 410–411

19. Xu Wu, Sheng Ding and Peter G. Schultz* “Small molecule Inducers of Cardiomyogenesis in Embryonic Stem Cells” Journal of the American Chemical Society, 2004, 126(6), 1590?1591.

This work has been reported by many news agencies, including American Chemical Society news center, Modern Drug Discovery and Palm Beach Post, and has been reviewed in several renowned scientific journals.

20. Xu Wu, Sheng Ding, Qiang Ding, Nathanael S. Gray and Peter G. Schultz* “A Small Molecule with Osteogenesis?Inducing Activity in Multipotent Mesenchymal Progenitor Cells” Journal of the American Chemical Society, 2002, 124(49), 14520?14521.

This work has been reviewed in several renowned scientific journals.

21. Sheng Ding, Nathanael S. Gray*, Qiang Ding, Xu Wu and Peter G. Schultz* “Resin?capture and release strategy toward combinatorial libraries of 2,6,9?substituted purines.” Journal of Combinatorial Chemistry, 2002, 4(2), 183?186.

22. Sheng Ding, Nathanael S. Gray*, Xu Wu, Qiang Ding and Peter G. Schultz* “A combinatorial scaffold approach toward kinase?directed heterocycle libraries.” Journal of the American Chemical Society, 2002, 124(8), 1594?1596.

23. Bari A. Pender, Xu Wu, Paul H. Axelson, and Barry S. Cooperman* “Toward a Rational Design of Peptide Inhibitors of Ribonucleotide Reductase: Structure?Function and Modeling Studies.” Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, 2001, 44(1), 36?46.

24. Xu Wu and Barry S. Cooperman* “Synthesis and biological activity of bivalent inhibitor of mouse ribonucleotide reductase.” Bioorganic and Medicinal Chemistry Letters, 2000, 10, 2387?2389


1. Ding, Qiang; Okram, Barun; Uno, Tetsuo; Liu, Yahua; Jin, Yunho; Jin, Qihui; Wu, Xu; Che, Jianwei; Liu, Hong; He, Xiaohui; Zhu, Xuefeng; Yang, Kunyong.Compounds and compositions as kinase inhibitors. Provisional Patent Filed.

2. Zhu, Shoutian; Wurdak, Heiko; Wang, Yan; Tao, Haiyan; Schultz, Peter G; Wu, X; Tyro3 as a therapeutic target for melanoma. Provisional Patent Filed.

3. Okram, Barun; Uno, Tetsuo; Ding, Qiang; Liu, Yahua; Jin, Yunho; Jin, Qihui; Wu, Xu; Che, Jianwei; Yan, S. Frank.Compounds and compositions as kinase inhibitors.PCT Int. Appl. (2009), 324pp. CODEN: PIXXD2 WO 2009097287 A1 20090806 AN 2009:944707CAPLUS

4. Dierks, Christine; Warmuth, Markus; Wu, Xu.Biphenylcarboxamide derivatives as hedgehog pathway modulators.PCT Int. Appl. (2008),76pp. CODEN: PIXXD2 WO 2008154259 A1 20081218 CAN 150:48036 AN 2008:1502750CAPLU

5. Gao, Wenqi; Jiang, Jiqing; Wan, Yongqin; Cheng, Dai; Han, Dong; Wu, Xu; Pan, Shifeng. Substituted biphenyl amide compounds and compositions as hedgehog pathway modulators.PCT Int. Appl. (2007),60 pp. CODEN: PIXXD2 WO 2007131201 A2 20071115 CAN 147:534706 AN 2007:1303209CAPLUS

6. Wu, Xu; Ding, Sheng; Schultz, Peter G.Compounds and compositions as hedgehog pathway modulators.PCT Int. Appl. (2006),28 pp. CODEN: PIXXD2 WO 2006050351 A2 20060511 CAN 144:445331 AN 2006:440130CAPLUS

7. Wu, Xu; Ding, Sheng; Schultz, Peter G.2,4­Diaminopyrimidines as inducers of cardiomyogenesis, their preparation and use in the treatment of cardiomyopathy.PCT Int. Appl. (2005),56 pp. CODEN: PIXXD2 WO 2005068437 A1 20050728 CAN 143:172888 AN 2005:673272CAPLUS

8. Wu, Xu; Ding, Sheng; Gray, Nathanael S.Purine derivatives for inducing osteogenesis.U.S. Pat. Appl. Publ. (2004),33 pp. CODEN: USXXCO US 2004157864 A1 20040812 CAN 141:185125 AN 2004:654776CAPLUS

View my publications at PubMed