Peng Li, Ph.D.

portrait of Peng Li, Ph.D.
Research Assistant Professor, U-M Life Sciences Institute
Assistant Professor, Department of Biologic and Materials Sciences & Prosthodontics, U-M School of Dentistry
Assistant Professor, Department of Molecular and Integrative Physiology, U-M Medical School


Peng Li’s primary research interest is to understand the molecular and neural basis of breathing, a fundamental body function maintaining homeostasis. The Li lab is integrating cutting-edge molecular genetics and neuroscience approaches to study how the brain interprets and responds to sensory cues and internal states to control breathing, and how this process could go awry in pathological conditions, such as in sleep apnea and sudden infant death syndrome.

Li completed his undergraduate study in Biological Sciences at Tsinghua University, and then joined the University of Southern California to pursue his Ph.D. in Neuroscience in the laboratory of Dr. Henry Sucov. Following his graduate work, he joined Dr. Mark Krasnow’s laboratory at Stanford University to study neural control of breathing. There, he and his colleagues identified the neuropeptide circuit underlying a breathing variant — sighing.

Li joined the Life Sciences Institute faculty in 2018.

Office: Room 5314A
Life Sciences Institute
Mary Sue Coleman Hall
210 Washtenaw Avenue
Ann Arbor, MI 48109-2216

Achievements & Discoveries

Rather than just being a sign of tiredness or boredom, sighing is actually a life-saving reflex. Sighing re-inflates alveoli in the lungs that have collapsed, making breathing more difficult.

As a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford, Li led research that used molecular, genetic, and pharmacologic approaches to identify a peptidergic sigh control circuit in the mouse brain.

Inhibition of the relevant pathways, and even ablation of receptor-expressing neurons, had little effect on other aspects of breathing, at least in the short term.

Research Areas

  • breathing patterns
  • interoception
  • neural circuits
  • neuropeptides
  • mouse models
  • breathing abnormalities
  • B.S., Biological Sciences, Tsinghua University, China (2003)
  • Ph.D., Neuroscience, University of Southern California (2011)
  • Postdoctoral Scholar, HHMI/Stanford University School of Medicine (2018)
  • Walter V. and Idun Berry Postdoctoral Fellowship, Stanford University (2013-2016)
  • Sammy Kuo Award, Stanford University (2016)
  • Parker B. Francis Fellowship (2017-2020)
  • Neuroscience Scholar, University of Michigan (2018)