Zhou-Feng Chen, PhD

Director, Center for the Study of Itch

Russell D. and Mary B. Shelden Professor of Anesthesiology, Psychiatry and Developmental Biology

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Dr. Zhou-Feng Chen received his B.S. degree in virology from Wuhan University in 1983 and his Ph.D. Degree in mouse genetics from University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston in 1994, under the supervision of Prof. Richard Behringer. After completing a postdoctoral training in Prof. David Anderson’s lab at Caltech, he joined the department of Anesthesiology as an assistant professor at Washington University School of Medicine in 2000 and became a full professor in 2009. In 2011, he became the founding director for the first center dedicated to the study of itch in the world. His research focuses on understanding of neural circuits of itch and pain with a wide range of interests including neuronal signaling, coding logic and descending modulation of itch and pain. His team identified the first itch-specific receptor Gastrin-Releasing Peptide Receptor (GRPR) and neural circuits in the spinal cord. In addition, he discovered molecular mechanisms underlying opioids-induced itch in the spinal cord. More recently, his team demonstrated that GRPR in the suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN) of the hypothalamus mediates contagious itch behavior.  These seminal discoveries have opened up an exciting new frontier for deciphering itch circuits and function. Ongoing research program is centered on the elucidation of the innate and affective circuits of itch in the brain. Genetic and molecular tools are being developed to target itch neurons for molecular, electrophysiological, cellular and circuit analysis. Detailed elucidation of how GRPR neurons receive, process and relay itch information may shed insights onto potential therapies for chronic itch.

Descending control of itch transmission by the serotonergic system via 5-HT1A-facilitated GRP-GRPR signaling.

Zhao ZQ, Liu XY, Jeffry J, Karunarathne WKA, Li JL, Munanairi A, Zhou XY, Li H, Sun YG, Wan L, Wu ZY, Kim S, Huo FQ, Mo P, Barry DM,…

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Cross-Inhibition of NMBR and GRPR Signaling Maintains Normal Histaminergic Itch Transmission.

Zhao ZQ, Wan L, Liu XY, Huo FQ, Li H, Barry DM, Krieger S, Kim S, Liu ZC, Xu J, Rogers BE, Li YQ, Chen ZF. J Neurosci. 2014 Sep 10;34(37):12402-14. 

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Postnatal maintenance of the 5-Ht1a-Pet1 autoregulatory loop by serotonin in the raphe nuclei of the brainstem.

Kim JY, Kim A, Zhao ZQ, Liu XY, Chen ZF. Mol Brain. 2014;7(1):48.

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Dorsal Raphe Neurons Signal Reward through 5-HT and Glutamate.

Liu Z, Zhou J, Li Y, Hu F, Lu Y, Ma M, Feng Q, Zhang JE, Wang D, Zeng J, Bao J, Kim JY, Chen ZF, El Mestikawy S, Luo M. Neuron. 2014; 81(6):1360-74.

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B-type natriuretic peptide is neither itch-specific nor functions upstream of the GRP-GRPR signaling pathway

Liu XY, Wan L, Huo FQ, Barry DM, Li H, Zhao ZQ and Chen ZF. Mol Pain. 2014; 10:4

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Zhou-Feng Chen named Shelden Professor in Anesthesiology

Congratulations! Dr. Zhoufeng Chen named Shelden Professor in Anesthesiology. Please read news here.

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Why itch is contagious?

Dr. Zhou-Feng Chen's team discovers why mice scratch in response to other mice scratching. Read news RecordSt.Louis Public RadioIndependent, NBC, Daily Mail, The Guardian, Hoffington Post, SmithsonianExpress, livescience, Inverse, Cell, 知识分子. Watch video here: Scientific American.

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New York Times Features Innovative Research at CSI

In a recent interview with The New York Times, Drs. Zhou-Feng Chen and Lynn Cornelius, talk about chronic itch as an unmet need and the clinical implication of the discovery of an itch-specific receptor called GRPR.

Read The New York Time article "Itching: more than deep-skin".


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Research identifies a pair of itchy channels for treating itch

Dr. Zhou-Feng Chen's team has identified a pair of itchy ion channels working in concert to transmit different types of itch in sensory neurons, providing potential new targets for treating itch. For details, please read the news.

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Why scratching makes you itch more?

Read the story in The Record. Watch the video abstract here.

Also in the News:
NBC Nightly News (video)Inside science (video)D News (video)NZ 3 News (video)ScoopStop (video)AAAS (podcast)BBCHuffington PostThe TelegraphThe Washington PostThe Daily MailNew ScientistThe IndependentScience News, Mirror, IFL Science, Fox NewsDermatology TimesPsychology Today.

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