Joshua J. Emrick, DDS, Ph.D.

Michigan Neuroscience Institute Affiliate
Assistant Professor, Department of Biologic and Materials Sciences & Prosthodontics

University of Michigan School of Dentistry
1011 N University Ave,
Room 6223

734- 763-1080


Dr. Joshua Emrick is from Flint, Michigan. He is a first-generation college graduate and received his B.S. in neuroscience with honors and highest distinction from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He earned his DDS and PhD in oral and craniofacial biology from the University of California, San Francisco as part of the integrated Dentist Scientist Training Program. Josh conducted his dissertation with the Nobel laureate Dr. David Julius studying pain and itch. Subsequently, he completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the NIDCR in the laboratory of Dr. Nicholas Ryba exploring orosensation. He now leads his research group in the University of Michigan School of Dentistry on Central Campus.

Areas of Interest

We bite into, adeptly manipulate, and crunch foods without inflicting self-injury. Our dentition and supporting structures routinely tolerate extreme forces of mastication, yet they also allow us to discern minuscule changes in bite and unanticipated hard particulates in food. We hardly notice these forces in normal chewing function; however, if the teeth are damaged and the dental pulps become inflamed, their sensory input is altered and we begin to experience excruciating pain – the toothache.

In thinking about these phenomena, we also wonder: What makes the tongue and lips profoundly sensitive to touch? How do common components (i.e., sensory neurons) provide us with unique sensations from distinct tissues? What makes our mouth feel dry? Why is tooth pain exquisite? And how do we inherently “know” the position of our teeth, jaws, and tongue when we eat and speak?

The Emrick lab is interested in answering these types of questions (and others) by studying the molecules, cells, and circuitry of the sensory nervous system innervating the mouth, head, and neck. To this end we use a number of state-of-the-art techniques to study trigeminal somatosensory neurons including 1) multiround, multiplex in situ hybridization and machine learning algorithm-guided transcriptional classification, 2) viral and genetic approaches for tracing connectivity and manipulating function using opto-/chemogenetics, and 3) an in vivo imaging platform to monitor responses to oral tissue stimulation at single-cell resolution. Above all, we want to understand how the sensory nervous system encodes oral and craniofacial information, contributes to normal tissue function, and ultimately drives reflexes and perceptions.

Honors & Awards

  • 2009, Regents Scholar, University of California. 
  • 2013, Elizabeth Fuhriman Gardner Award, University of California San Francisco School of Dentistry. 
  • 2018, Dental Clinical Research Fellowship, National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research.
  • 2021, Fellows Award for Research Excellence, National Institutes of Health.
  • 2021, U-M Biological Sciences Scholar.

Published Articles or Reviews

  • Emrick JJ, von Buchholtz LJ, Ryba NJP. 12/2020. Transcriptomic classification of the neurons innervating teeth. Journal of Dental Research 10.1177/0022034520941837 
  • Von Buchholtz LJ, Lam RM, Emrick JJ, Chesler AT, Ryba NJP. 05/04/2020. Assigning transcriptomic class in the trigeminal ganglion using multiplex in situ hybridization and machine learning. Pain 10.1097/j.pain.0000000000001911 
  • Lin King JV, Emrick JJ, Kelly MJS, Herzig V, King GF, Medzihradszky KF, Julius D. 09/05/2019. A Cell-Penetrating Scorpion Toxin Enables Mode-Specific Modulation of TRPA1 and Pain. Cell 10.1016/j.cell.2019.07.014
  • Emrick JJ, Mathur A, Wei J, Gracheva EO, Gronert K, Rosenblum MD, Julius D. 12/18/2018. Tissue-specific contributions of Tmem79 to atopic dermatitis and mast cell-mediated histaminergic itch. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 10.1073/pnas.1814132115

Complete List of Publications.

Web Sites