Current Environment:

Meenakshi Rao Lab Research | Overview


The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is unique among other organs because it has its own intrinsic nervous system that can function largely independently to regulate a variety of digestive and metabolic functions. Our lab uses mouse genetic models, in vivo and in vitro assays to investigate how information about nutrients, microbes, and mechanical stimuli is detected and used by this enteric nervous system (ENS) to regulate GI motility, appetite, epithelial repair and immune responses. Our work is directly relevant to digestive disorders and obesity.

Lab members

  • Meenakshi Rao, MD, PhD (Principal Investigator)
  • Amy Shepherd, PhD (Postdoctoral research fellow)
  • Melissa Musser, MD, PhD (Postdoctoral research fellow)
  • Harry Rosenberg, MD, PhD (Postdoctoral research fellow)
  • Aleksandra Prochera (Graduate student in Immunology, Harvard Medical School)
  • Anu Muppirala (Graduate student in Neuroscience, Harvard Medical School)
  • Valentina Lagomarsino (Graduate student in Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Harvard Medical School)
  • Perry Mitchell (Research Assistant)

Lab alumni

  • Sophia Chiu (Medical student, Mt. Sinai School of Medicine)
  • Lauren Dong (Ph.D. candidate in Pharmacology, Weill Cornell Medical School)
  • Svetlana Sabel (Attending Physician, St. Barnabas Medical Center)
  • Farah Karim (Dental student, University of Washington)
  • Esther Mezhibovsky (Ph.D. candidate in Nutritional Sciences, Rutgers University)
  • Anjali Agarwalla (Medical student, University of Pennsylvania)
  • Daniella Rastelli (Associate Research Scientist, Takeda Pharmaceuticals)
  • Christie Gutierrez (Clinical fellow, Columbia University Medical Center)
  • Bryana Belin (Lab technician, Columbia University Medical Center)
  • Laurence Feinstein (Assistant Professor, Drexel University School of Medicine)
  • Ariel Robinson (Ph.D. candidate in Biology, Wesleyan University)

Selected publications

Rastelli D, Robinson A, Lagomarsino VN, Hassan R, Matthews LT, Perez K, Dan W, Yim P, Mixer M, Prochera A, Shepherd A, Sun L, Hall K, Ballou S, Lembo A, Nee J, Rao M. Diminished androgen levels are linked to irritable bowel syndrome and cause bowel dysfunction in mice. Journal of Clinical Investigation. 2022; 132(2), 1-9; e150789.

Yan Y, Ramanan D, Rozenberg M, McGovern K, Rastelli D, Vijaykumar B, Yaghi O, Mosaheb M, Chiu I, Itzkovitz S, Rao M, Mathis D, Benoist C. Interleukin 6 produced by enteric neurons regulates the number and phenotype of microbe-responsive regulatory T cells in the gut. Immunity. 2021; 54 (3): 499-513.

Rutlin M, Rastelli D, Kuo WT, Estep JA, Louis A, Riccomagno MM, Turner JR, Rao M. The Villin1 Gene Promoter Drives Cre Recombinase Expression in Extra-Intestinal Tissues. Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2020; 10: 864-867.

Lai NY, Musser MA, Pinho-Ribeiro FA, Baral P, Jacobson A, Ma P, Potts DE, Chen Z, Paik D, Soualhi S, Shi H, Yan Y, Misra A, Goldstein K, Lagomarsino V, Nordstrom A, Sivanathan KN, Wallrapp A, Kuchroo VK, Nowarski R, Starnbach MN, Surana NK, Benoist C, An D, Wu C, Huh JR, Rao M, Chiu IM. Gut-innervating nociceptor neurons regulate Peyer’s patch Microfold cells and SFB levels to mediate Salmonella host defense. Cell. 2020; 180 (1): 33-49.

Kulkarni S, Ganz J, Bayrer J, Becker L, Bogunovic M, Rao M. Advances in Enteric Neurobiology: The "Brain" in the Gut in Health and Disease. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience. 2018; 38(44):9346-9354.

Rao M, Gershon MD. Enteric nervous system development: what could possibly go wrong? Nature reviews. Neuroscience. 2018; 19(9):552-565.

Rao M, Rastelli D, Dong L, Chiu S, Setlik W, Gershon MD, Corfas G. (2017) Enteric glia regulate gastrointestinal motility but are not required for maintenance of the epithelium in mice. Gastroenterology, 153, 1068-1081. Featured as cover article.

More publications

Contact information and open positions

We invite talented trainees at all levels (post-doctoral research fellows, graduate and undergraduate students, medical students and residents) to join our team. If you are excited about pursuing questions that will advance the fundamental understanding of enteric neurobiology in health and disease, please contact me with an email articulating your interests and experience.

Meenakshi Rao, MD, PhD