Chen Ran, Ph.D.

Postdoctoral Fellow, Harvard Medical School
Chen Ran headshot

​​Chen Ran is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Stephen Liberles at Harvard Medical School. Ran received his bachelor’s degree from Peking University. In graduate school, he used in vivo calcium imaging to investigate the coding of somatic stimuli in the spinal dorsal horn under the supervision of Xiaoke Chen and Liqun Luo. As a postdoctoral fellow in the Liberles Lab, Ran developed an in vivo two-photon mouse brainstem calcium imaging preparation to record the activities of large numbers of neurons in the mouse brainstem that respond to visceral organ stimuli. His postdoctoral work provided a systematic characterization of the coding of internal senses in the brainstem. His future direction will further investigate how visceral organs are represented throughout the brain and how viscerosensory codes regulate physiology and behavior.

Research Plan

“The coding of internal senses in the brain”

The discoveries of the coding principles of vision, somatosensation, olfaction, gustation and audition are all landmark achievements. Each sensory system reveals coding strategies that are similar in some regards but unique in others. Viscerosensation, the brain’s ability to attend to signals from within the body, has long been a missing piece of the puzzle. Compared to external sensory coding, the viscerosensory system offers unique advantages, allowing neural codes to be linked immediately to a large variety of innate behaviors and physiological responses, including feeding, drinking, breathing regulation, gastrointestinal functions and pain responses. However, very little is known about how visceral information is encoded in the brain.

In my current postdoctoral work, I developed an in vivo two-photon calcium imaging platform and provided the first comprehensive characterization of the interoceptive coding in the medulla. In the future, I seek to reveal the transformation of neural codes from the medulla to the pons, thalamus, hypothalamus and cortex using neuronal population recordings. During this process, I will understand how the coding of cognitive features of satiety, hunger, thirst, nausea, hypoxia and visceral pain is generated from the coding of basic physical variables like force, chemicals and osmolarity. More broadly, these efforts will launch an exciting community on viscerosensory coding, with internal sensation joining vision, olfaction, somatosensation, gustation and audition as a model paradigm for understanding how the brain processes information.

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