Stephen Liberles, 2015, 2009

Stephen Liberles

Who he is

Stephen Liberles received an undergraduate degree in Chemistry from Harvard College in 1994, and a Ph.D. in Chemistry and Chemical Biology from Harvard in 1999, working in the lab of Stuart Schreiber.

He then performed his post-doctoral work in the lab of Linda Buck, first at Harvard Medical School and then at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. He joined the faculty of Harvard Medical School as an Assistant Professor in 2007.

What he does

The Liberles Lab studies sensory neuroscience to understand how the brain generates complex behaviors. Our five basic external senses- touchtastevisionhearing, and smell– and our internal senses that ensure bodily homeostasis are principal drives of behavior. Dr. Liberles and his research team identified new families of olfactory receptors, and characterized sweet taste receptors in different vertebrates.

They also studied how the olfactory system evokes different complex behaviors, such as odor aversion, attraction, and pheromone responses. They characterized ethological odors and pheromones, the receptors that detect them, and the neural circuits that orchestrate behavioral responses. In recent efforts, the Liberles Lab has undertaken a molecular and genetic analysis of the vagus nerve.

News from the Lab

The vagus nerve is a key body-brain connection that controls basic functions of the respiratory, cardiovascular, immune, and digestive systems. Different sensory neurons detect peripheral stimuli such as blood pressure changes at the aortic arch, lung expansion during breathing, meal-induced stomach distension, and chemotherapeutics that induce nausea. Underlying vagal sensory mechanisms are largely unresolved at a molecular level, presenting tremendously important problems in sensory biology.

We used a molecular approach to deconstruct the sensory vagus nerve, identifying novel cell surface receptors and classifying principal cell types. We then generated a collection of ires-Cre knock-in mice to target each neuron type, and adapted genetic tools for Cre-based anatomical mapping, in vivo imaging, and optogenetic control of vagal neuron activity.

Using these approaches, we identified neuron types that survey and control particular physiological systems.