Shawn Xu

Our Research

Our lab studies how animals detect sensory cues such as touch, light, chemicals and temperature, how neural circuits and synapses process sensory information to produce behavioral output, and how genes and drugs regulate these processes.

We are also interested in understanding how the sensory environment modulates aging and longevity.

About X.Z. Shawn Xu

Specialities:
  • Sensory transduction and behavior
  • Neural circuits and synaptic mechanisms underlying behavior and addiction
  • Sensory and genetic modulation of aging and longevity

The Xu lab investigates some of the fundamental questions in neuroscience and physiology: How are sensory inputs perceived by the nervous system, how do neural circuits and synapses process sensory information to generate behavioral output, and how do genes and drugs of abuse regulate these processes? He also studies how the sensory environment modulates aging and longevity.

Highlight: One neuron, two functions

Investigators in the Xu lab have shown how a single neuron can perform multiple functions in a model organism, illuminating for the first time this fundamental biological mechanism and shedding light on the human brain. The researcher found that a neuron in C. elegans, a tiny worm with a simple nervous system used as a model for studying sensation, movement and other neurological function, regulates both the speed and direction in which the worm moves. The individual neurons can route information through multiple downstream neural circuits, with each circuit controlling a specific behavioral output.

The research was published online Nov. 6 in the journal Cell.

Representative publications

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. elegans. Cell 147, 922-933.

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.