Fan Wang, Ph.D. (Columbia University)

Associate Professor, Department of Neurobiology
Associate Professor, Department of Cell Biology

Duke University Program in Genetics
Cell and Molecular Biology Program
Developmental Biology Training Program


308 Nanaline Duke Bldg., Box 3709

Duke University Medical Center
Durham, NC 27710

Telephone: 919-684-3682

Rodents use their whiskers (specialized facial hairs) as touch sensors for environmental and social explorations. These touch sensors are particularly important for their activities in the dark.

All sensory organs on the face, including the whiskers, are innervated by sensory neurons located inside the trigeminal ganglion located just beneath the skull. These sensory neurons detect physical stimuli experienced by the face and transmit the information to the brain by forming multiple connections with second order neurons in the brainstem. Subsequently, information is relayed from brainstem to the thalamus and other areas, and from thalamus to the somatosensory cortex.

    Whiskers are motile sensors. Rodents use the “back-and-forth” sweeping movements, called whisking, to palpate objects, and thus the process is also referred to as “active sensing”. Movements of the whiskers are controlled by motoneurons located in the facial nucleus, as well as by a complex network of cortical and subcortical neurons that directly or indirectly connected to these motoneurons.

   Information gained from active whisking is processed and used to guide many behaviors as rodents move through their environments to search for food and to interact with each other. Information derived from different facial sensory organs guides different orofacial behaviors such as mastication (chewing), licking and swallowing.


   In our lab, we aim to dynamically map and functionally manipulate the neural circuits underlying the processes of "sensations to perceptions to actions" in various behaviors. We have been and are continuing to develop genetically engineered mice, together with various viral technologies (such as deficient rabies virus, retrograde lentiviruses, and AAV), to perform “connectivity mapping” of sensorimotor circuits, and to carry out optogenetic/chemicogenetic dissections of circuit functions.

Recent Publications:

Pagadala P, Park CK, Bang S, Xu ZZ, Xie RG, Liu T,  Han BX, Tracey WD Jr, Wang F, Ji RR (2013) Loss of NR1 Subunit of NMDARs in Primary Sensory Neurons Leads to Hyperexcitability and Pain Hypersensitivity:  Involvement of Ca2+ -Activated Small Conductance Potassium Channels.  J Neurosci.  33(33):13425-30

Takatoh, J., Nelson, A., Zhou, X., Bolton, M.M., Ehlers, M.D., Arenkiel, B.R., Mooney, R., and Wang, F. New modules are added to vibrissal premotor circuitry with the emergence of exploratory whisking. (2013) Neuron. 77(2): 346-360. [Duke Med News] [Science Omega].

Wang, P., Chen, T., Sakurai, K., Han, B., He, Z., Feng, G., and Wang, F. Intersectional Cre driver lines generated using split-intein mediated split-Cre reconstitution. (2012). Scientific Reports. 2: 497. Epub July 6, 2012.

Takatoh J, Wang F. Axonally translated SMADs link up BDNF and retrograde BMP signaling. (2012). Neuron. 74(1):3-5.

Arenkiel, B.A., Hasegawa H., Yi, J., Larsen, R.S., Wallace, M.L., Philpot, B.D., Wang, F., and Ehlers, M.D. Activity-induced remodeling of olfactory bulb microcircuits revealed by monosynaptic tracing. (2011). PLoS ONE. 6(12):e29423.

Scott, A., Hasegawa, H., Sakurai, K., Yaron, A., Cobb, J., and Wang, F. Transcription factor Shox2 is required for proper development of TrkB-expressing mechanosensory neurons. (2011). J. Neurosci. 31(18):6741-6749.

Da Silva, S. and Wang, F. Retrograde specification of neural circuits by target-derived neurotrophins and growth factors. (2011). Curr. Opin. Neurobiol. 21:61-7.

Da Silva, S., Hasegawa, H., Han, B., and Wang, F. Proper formation of whisker-barrelettes requires periphery-derived Smad4-dependent TGFb signaling. (2011).  PNAS. Epub ahead of print.

Zhou, X., Takatoh, J., and Wang, F.  The mammalian Class 3 PI3K (PIK3C3) is required for early embryogenesis and cell proliferation. (2011) PLoS One 6(1): e16358.

Wang, L., Budolfson, K., and Wang, F. Pik3c3 deletion in pyramidal neurons results in loss of synapses, extensive gliosis and progressive neurodegeneration. (2011). Neuroscience. 13;172:427-42.


Click here for a full list of Publications.