Zhou-Feng Chen, PhD

Director, Center for the Study of Itch

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

  Email Zhou-Feng Chen, PhD


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.

Non-canonical Opioid Signaling Inhibits Itch Transmission in the Spinal Cord of Mice.

Munanairi A, Liu XY, Barry DM, Yang Q, Yin JB, Jin H, Li H, Meng QT, Peng JH, Wu ZY, Yin J, Zhou XY, Wan L, Mo P, Kim S, Huo FQ, Jeffry J, Li YQ, Bardoni R, Bruchas MR, Chen ZF. Cell Report. 2018 Apr 17;23(3):866-877. PMID: 29669290

Read more

Spinal Mechanisms of Itch Transmission

Barry DM, Munanairi A, Chen ZF. Neurosci Bull. 2018 Feb;34(1):156-164. PMID: 28365862.

Read more

New clues point to relief for chronic itching

Dr. Zhou-Feng Chen's team reveals why agonists targeting kappa opioid receptor can be used to treat chronic itch. Read news here.

Read more

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.

Read more

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".


Read more

Zhou-Feng Chen named Shelden Professor in Anesthesiology

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

Read more

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.

Read more