Shawn Xu, PhD

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

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

(734) 615-9311

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.


Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University, 2000

Published Articles or Reviews

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.

Wang, X., Li, G., Liu, J., Liu, J., and Xu, X.Z.S. (2016) TMC-1 mediates alkaline sensation in C. elegans via nociceptive neurons.  Neuron  91, 146-54

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)

Xiao, R., Zhang, B., Dong, Y., Gong, J., Xu, T., Liu, J., and Xu, X.Z.S. (2013) A genetic program promotes C. elegans longevity via a thermosensitive TRP channel.  Cell  152, 806-817

Piggott, B.J., Liu, J., Feng, Z., Wescott, S.A., and Xu, X.Z.S. (2011) The neural circuits and synaptic mechanisms underlying motor initiation in C. elegansCell   147, 922-933

Kang, L., Gao, J., Schafer, W.R., Xie, Z., and Xu, X.Z.S. (2010) C. elegans TRP family protein TRP-4 is a pore-forming subunit of a native mechanosensory transduction channel.  Neuron 67, 381-391

Liu, J., Ward, A., Gao, J., Dong, Y., Nishio, N., Inada, H., Kang, L., Yu, Y., Ma., D., Xu, T., Mori, I., Xie, Z., and Xu, X.Z.S. (2010) C. elegans phototransduction requires a G protein-dependent cGMP pathway and a taste receptor homolog.   Nature Neuroscience  13, 715-722

Ward, A., Liu, J., Feng, Z., and Xu, X.Z.S. (2008) Light-sensitive neurons and channels mediate phototaxis in C. elegans.   Nature Neuroscience  11, 916-922.

Feng, Z., Li, W., Ward, A., Piggott, B.J., Larkspur, E., Sternberg, P.W., and Xu, X.Z.S. (2006) A C. elegans model of nicotine-dependent behavior: regulation by TRP-family channels.  Cell  127, 621-633

Li, W., Feng, Z., Sternberg, P.W., and Xu, X.Z.S. (2006) A C. elegans stretch receptor neuron revealed by a mechanosensitive TRP channel homologue.   Nature 440, 684-687.

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