PiN Faculty Member - Stephen Liberles, PhD

Stephen Liberles, PhD

Professor in Cell Biology

Harvard Medical School
240 Longwood Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Tel: 617-432-7283
Fax: 617-432-7285
Visit my lab page here.

Molecular and genetic analysis of the vagus nerve

Autonomic physiology is precisely controlled by the nervous system. Vital functions such as breathing, heart rate, and metabolism are under dynamic regulation by sensory inputs that signal the physiological status of internal organs. The vagus nerve is a key component of the communication axis between body and brain, and manipulating vagus nerve activity may impact disorders of the respiratory, cardiovascular, and digestive systems. Yet, vagus nerve sensory biology remains poorly charted at a molecular and cellular level. Receptors that detect meal-induced stomach distension, arterial blood pressure, heart volume, nausea-inducing toxins, and cough-evoking irritants have not been identified. My lab has used molecular and genetic approaches to study the vagus nerve; we (1) identified vagal receptors, (2) classified and genetically accessed sensory neuron subpopulations, and (3) adapted genetic approaches for anatomical mapping, in vivo imaging, targeted cell ablation, and remote control of vagal afferents. With this foundation, we identified neuron types that innervate the lung and control breathing (Cell, 2015), and other neuron types that monitor and control the digestive system (Cell, 2016). We also identified a key role for the mechanoreceptor Piezo2 in sensing airway stretch during tidal breathing (Nature, 2017). We are uniquely positioned to probe internal sensory systems- from the molecular logic of stimulus detection in the periphery to the neural basis of orchestrating behavioral and physiological responses. A major goal of our research program is to identify receptors important for internal organ sensation by the vagus nerve. Identifying vagal sensory receptors will advance the field of neurophysiology, and may provide new ways to treat autonomic disease.

Last Update: 9/16/2020


For a complete listing of publications click here.



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