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.

Additional Publications in Pubmed


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