Zhou-Feng Chen, PhD

Director, Center for the Study of Itch, Russell D. and Mary B. Shelden Professor of Anesthesiology, Psychiatry and Developmental Biology

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.