Zhaozhu Qiu, Ph.D.

Headshot of Zhaozhu Qiu
  • Associate Professor of Physiology

Research Interests

Ion channel; Neurological disease; Electrophysiology; Functional genomics; Sensory neuroscience ...read more


Dr. Zhaozhu Qiu is an assistant professor in the Departments of Physiology and Neuroscience and the principal investigator for the Qiu Lab at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. His research focuses on an important class of cell-membrane embedded proteins, called ion channels, which are essential gatekeepers that control the flow of ions and molecules in and out of cells. His lab discovered a long-sought protein, the proton-activated chloride channel (PAC), that could protect against the tissue-damaging effects of stroke, heart attack, cancer and inflammation and could provide a new drug target for potential therapies for stroke and other diseases.

His team is currently engaged in research on ion channels that conduct chloride, the only major negatively charged ion in the body.

Dr. Qiu received his undergraduate degree in medical sciences from Shandong University in China. He earned his Ph.D. at Columbia University. He completed a postdoc at Scripps Research Institute. Dr. Qiu joined the Johns Hopkins faculty in 2016.

His work has been recognized with a Sloan Research Fellowship, a Klingenstein-Simons Fellowship in Neuroscience, a Johns Hopkins Catalyst Award and a National Institutes of Health MIRA Award.

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  • Associate Professor of Physiology
  • Associate Professor of Neuroscience
  • Associate Professor of Neurosurgery

Departments / Divisions



  • Ph.D.; Columbia University in the City of New York (New York) (2010)
  • B.Med.; Shandong University (China) (2002)

Research & Publications

Research Summary

Osmolarity Sensing

Cell is composed of around 70% water with a plasma membrane also permeable to water. So keeping cell volume constant in response to osmotic challenges is fundamental to life. This is achieved in mammals by maintaining a stable blood plasma osmolarity (near 300 mOsm/L) and by possessing a variety of mechanisms that allow individual cells to monitor and recover their volume following osmotic swelling or shrinkage. Defective osmoregulation leads to various human disorders, including dehydration, hypertension, renal and neurological diseases. However, the identity of many key osmosensing molecules has been a long-standing mystery. Our goal is to elucidate the molecular mechanisms of mammalian osmotic regulation at both the cellular and whole body levels. We recently performed a genome-wide RNAi screen and co-discovered SWELL1 (LRRC8A) as an essential component of the elusive Volume-Regulated Anion Channel (VRAC) (learn more). VRAC is required for maintaining cell volume in response to osmotic swelling. This discovery enables exciting studies elucidating the function of this important channel in cell volume regulation, fluid secretion, and diseases such as diabetes, stroke and traumatic brain injury.

Deorphanizing the Human Transmembrane Genome: A Focus on Novel Ion Channels  

The sequencing of the human genome has fueled the last two decades of work to functionally decipher genome content. An important subset (~25%) of genes encodes transmembrane proteins, which represent the targets of over half of known drugs. Despite recent progress, a large number (~1,500) of membrane proteins are still functionally uncharacterized. We focus on deorphanizing a particularly interesting functional class of membrane proteins, i.e. ion channels or transporters, many of which are well characterized biophysically yet lack underlying molecular identity. Toward this end, we are combining the powerful genomics tools (including bioinformatics, proteomics, single-cell RNA sequencing, and RNAi/CRISPR gene manipulation) with electrophysiology and imaging techniques. Our study will shed light on the molecular identity and physiological function of new pore-forming membrane proteins and may provide therapeutic strategies to target them for diseases with abnormal ion transport and homeostasis.


The Qiu Lab employs a multidisciplinary approach including high-throughput functional genomics, electrophysiology, biochemistry and mouse genetics to discover novel ion channels and to elucidate their role in health and disease. Ion channels are pore-forming membrane proteins gating the flow of ions across the cell membrane. Among their many functions, ion channels regulate cell volume, control epithelial fluid secretion and generate the electrical impulses in our brains.

Lab Website: Qiu Lab

Selected Publications

View all on PubMed

Osei-Owusu J, Yang J, Vitery MDC, Tian M, Qiu Z., “PAC proton-activated chloride channel contributes to acid-induced cell death in primary rat cortical neurons.” Channels 2020. doi: 10.1080/19336950.2020.1730019.

Yang J*, Chen J*, Vitery MDC*, Osei-Owusu J, Chu J, Yu H, Sun S, Qiu Z. “PAC, an evolutionarily conserved membrane protein, is a proton-activated chloride channel.” Science 2019, 364:395-399. doi: 10.1126/science.aav9739. *Equal contribution.

Yang J, Vitery MDC, Chen J, Osei-Owusu J, Chu J, Qiu Z. “Glutamate-releasing SWELL1 channel in astrocytes modulates synaptic transmission and promotes brain damage in stroke.” Neuron 2019. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2019.03.029.

Osei-Owusu J, Yang J, Vitery MDC, Qiu Z. “Molecular Biology and Physiology of Volume-Regulated Anion Channel (VRAC).” Current Topics in Membranes 2018, 81:177-203. doi: 10.1016/bs.ctm.2018.07.005.

Kefauver JM, Saotome K, Dubin AE, Pallesen J, Cottrell CA, Cahalan SM, Qiu Z, Hong G, Crowley CS, Whitwam T, Lee WH, Ward AB, Patapoutian A. “Structure of the human volume regulated anion channel.” eLife 2018. doi: 10.7554/eLife.38461.

Contact for Research Inquiries

725 N Wolfe St
WBSB 216
Baltimore, MD 21205 map
Phone: 410-614-3795

Activities & Honors


  • Sloan Research Fellowship
  • Klingenstein-Simons Fellowship in Neuroscience
  • Johns Hopkins Catalyst Award
  • National Institutes of Health MIRA Award

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