Shawn Xu, Ph.D.

Michigan Neuroscience Institute Affiliate
Bernard W. Agranoff Collegiate Professor in the Life Sciences
Professor, Molecular & Integrative Physiology
Research Professor, Life Sciences Institute

Life Sciences Institute
210 Washtenaw Avenue
Room 6115A
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2216


Areas of Interest

We are a sensory biology lab. We ask the following questions to better understand how animals sense their external and internal world through various sensory systems:

  • How do animals detect and distinguish various sensory cues — such as temperature, touch, chemicals and light — via different types of sensory receptors and channels?
  • What are the molecular identities of these sensory receptors and channels, and how do they regulate sensory signaling and behavior?
  • How do neural circuits and synapses process sensory information to produce behavioral outputs, and how do genes and drugs regulate these processes?
  • How do sensory cues regulate aging and longevity? 

To address these questions, we primarily use the genetic model organism C. elegans because of its simple and well-characterized nervous system. Because many sensory receptors and channels are evolutionarily conserved, we also explore their roles in somatosensation and pain sensation in mammals, using mouse models. We take a multidisciplinary approach, combining molecular genetics, behavioral analysis, functional imaging and electrophysiology.

Honors & Awards

  • Elected Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science (2017)
  • Basic Science Research Award, University of Michigan Medical School (2011)
  • Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences (2007)
  • Sloan Fellow (2006)


  • B.S., Biochemistry, Wuhan University, China
  • M.S., Biochemistry, Wuhan University, China
  • Ph.D., Biological Chemistry, Johns Hopkins University

Published Articles or Reviews

  • Iliff, A.J.+, Wang, C.+, Ronan, E.A., Hake, A.E., Guo, Y., Li, X., Zhang, X., Zheng, M., Liu, J., Grosh, K., Duncan, R.K., Xu, X.Z.S. (2021) The nematode C. elegans senses airborne sound.  Neuron  109, 3633-46
  • Gong, J., Liu, J., Ronan, E.A., He, F., Cai, W., Fatima, M., Zhang, W., Lee, H., Li, Z., Kim, G.H., Pipe, K.P., Duan, B., Liu, J., and Xu, X.Z.S. (2019) A cold-sensing receptor encoded by a glutamate receptor gene.  Cell 178, 1375-86.
  • Gong, J., Yuan, Y., Ward, A., Kang, L., Zhang, B., Wu, Z., Peng, J., Feng, Z., Liu, J., and Xu, X.Z.S. (2016) The C. elegans taste receptor homolog LITE-1 is a photoreceptor.  Cell  167, 1252-63.
  • Li, Z., Liu, J., Zheng, M., and Xu, X.Z.S. (2014) Encoding of both analog- and digital-like behavioral outputs by one C. elegans interneuron. Cell 159, 751-765. (cover story)

Web Sites