Kelvin C. Luk, PhD

Research Assistant Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine
University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine

Contact Information3600 Spruce St
1 Maloney Building
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Office: 215-615-3202
Fax: 215-615-3206


Specialty Division

Neuropathology, Immunobiology and Experimental Pathology

Research Expertise

My research aims to improve our understanding of Parkinson’s disease (PD), a progressive neurodegenerative condition that affects over 1 million individuals in the U.S. alone, and for which there is currently no cure. Over the past 10 years, efforts have been focused on three major themes in PD:

1) Role of Protein Misfolding in PD: Histopathological, genetic, and experimental evidence suggest that the aggregation and accumulation of alpha-synuclein (α-Syn), the primary component of Lewy bodies, underlies the symptoms seen in PD. We previously demonstrated that aggregated forms of α-Syn are transmissible entities that propagate and spread throughout the brain in a manner akin to prion diseases. This exciting discovery represents a significant shift in our understanding of PD etiology and progression. Through the development of novel biophysical, cell-based and animal models, my work seeks to identify factors that a) regulate α-Syn expression and misfolding, b) determine its route of transmission and c) modulate the toxicity of α-Syn pathology.

2) PD Drug Discovery: Present PD treatments provide temporary relief to motor impairments but do not alter the neurodegenerative process. In collaboration with UPenn’s Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research Drug Discovery group, I have been developing high-throughput screening assays to identify small molecules and biologics that inhibit or neutralize abnormal α-syn species.

3) Biology of midbrain dopamine neurons: PD is primarily a movement disorder that results from the loss of dopamine-producing neurons in the midbrain. The reasons why this subpopulation is particularly vulnerable in PD is unclear. By characterizing the pathways that govern their development and maintenance, we and others have shown that a susceptible dopamine cells are defined by specific transcription factors that regulate their survival in adulthood.

Itmat Expertise

Neurodegeneration, Parkinson's disease, drug discovery, cell-models, animal models

Graduate Groups



BSc (Microbiology and Immunology), McGill University, 1997
PhD (Pathology), McGill University, 2004
MTR (Translational Research), University of Pennsylvania, 2013

Specialty Certification

Postgraduate Training

Postdoctoral fellowship, University of Pennsylvania, 2005-2009

Awards and Honors

Doctoral Research Award / Canadian Institutes for Health Research, 2000-2003
Teuber-Neysmith Graduate Research Award, Montreal Neurological Institute, 2002
Research Fellowship, University of Pennsylvania Institute for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics (ITMAT), 2010-2012

Memberships and Professional Organizations

Society for Neuroscience, 2004 - Present
Parkinson's UK, 2013 - Present
Fonds National de la Recherche Luxembourg, 2014 - Present
Medical Research Council, UK, 2015 - Present
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), 2017 - Present
Research Grants Council of Hong Kong, 2017 - Present
NIH/NINDS, 2017 - Present

Web Links

Selected Publications

Critical appraisal of pathology transmission in the α-synuclein fibril model of Lewy body disorders

Nouraei N, Mason DM, Miner KM, Carcella MA, Bhatia TN, Dumm B, Soni D, Johnson DA, Luk KC, Leak RK, Experimental Neurology 299(Pt A): 172-196, 2017

Excess α-synuclein compromises phagocytosis in iPSC-derived macrophages

Haenseler W, Zambon F, Lee H, Vowles J, Rinaldi F, Duggal G, Houlden H, Gwinn K, Wray W, Luk KC, Wade-Martins R, James W, Cowley S, Scientific Reports 7(1): 9003, 2017, PMID:28827786

Read article

Synthetic alpha-synuclein fibrils cause mitochondrial impairment and selective dopamine neurodegeneration in part via inos-mediated nitric oxide production

Tapias V, Hu X, Luk KC, Sanders LH, Lee VMY, Greenamyre JT, Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences 74(15): 2851-2874, 2017, PMID:28534083

Read article

Molecular and Biological Compatibility with Host Alpha-Synuclein Influences Fibril Pathogenicity

Luk KC, Covell DJ, Kehm VM, Zhang B, Song IY, Byrne MD, Pitkin RM, Decker SC, Trojanowski JQ, Lee VM, Cell Reports 16(12): 3373-87, 2016, PMID:27653697

Read article

Widespread transneuronal propagation of α-synucleinopathy triggered in olfactory bulb mimics prodromal Parkinson's disease

Rey NL, Steiner JA, Maroof N, Luk KC, Madaj Z, Trojanowski JQ, Lee VM, Brundin P, Journal of Experimental Medicine 213(9): 1759-78, 2016, PMID:27503075

Read article

Transmission of α-synucleinopathy from olfactory structures deep into the temporal lobe

Mason DM, Nouraei N, Pant DB, Miner KM, Hutchison DF, Luk KC, Stolz JF, Leak RK, Molecular Neurodegeneration 11(1): 49, 2016, PMID:27363576

Read article

Intrastriatal injection of pre-formed mouse α-synuclein fibrils into rats triggers α-synuclein pathology and bilateral nigrostriatal degeneration

Paumier KL, Luk KC, Manfredsson FP, Kanaan NM, Lipton JW, Collier TJ, Steece-Collier K, Kemp CJ, Celano S, Schulz E, Sandoval IM, Fleming S, Dirr E, Polinski NK, Trojanowski JQ, Lee VMY, Sortwell CE, Neurobiology of Disease 82(): 185-199, 2015, PMID:26093169

Read article

Addition of exogenous α-Synuclein Pre-formed fibrils to Primary Neuronal Cultures to seed recruitment of endogenous α-Synuclein to Lewy body and Lewy Neurite-like aggregates

Volpicelli-Daley LA, Luk KC, Lee VMY, Nature Protocols 9(9): 2135-2146, 2014

Alpha-synuclein immunotherapy blocks uptake and templated propagation of misfolded a-synuclein and neurodegeneration

Tran HT, Chung CH, Iba M, Zhang B, Trojanowski JQ, Luk KC, Lee VMY, Cell Reports 7(6): 2054-65, 2014, PMID:24931606

Read article

Search PubMed for articles