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Like the splendid external world, the environment inside our body is constantly changing. Interoception, the ability to monitor internal organ status by the nervous system, ensures appropriate regulation of physiology and behavior to diverse body needs. What signals are critical for maintaining physiological homeostasis? How are different organ cues being detected and processed? Are these pathways altered under certain disease conditions? The Chang lab uses molecular and genetic approaches including optogenetics and chemogenetics, virus-based anatomical tracing, and in vivo imaging to answer such questions. Our goal is to better understand the body-brain interaction and develop novel neuronal-based therapeutic strategies for disease intervention.

The vagus nerve is a major body-brain axis that relays critical sensory information from the neck, chest, and abdomen, and controls basic autonomic functions of the respiratory, cardiovascular, digestive, and immune systems. Surgical, electrical, or pharmacological control of vagus nerve activity impacts numerous diseases. Our recent studies discover a multidimensional coding architecture of the vagal interoceptive system that ensures effective and efficient signal communication from visceral organs to the brain.

The Chang lab has special interests in the neuro-cardiac interactions as well as gut-brain axis in Parkinson’s disease.