Dr. Nan Li received her B.S. from Shanghai Jiao Tong University, and her Ph.D. from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, both in Biomedical Engineering. As a graduate student co-supervised by Dr. Galit Pelled and Dr. Nitish Thakor, she established an optogenetic fMRI strategy to study cortical plasticity following peripheral nerve injury (Li et al., PNAS 2011). As a postdoctoral associate in Dr. Alan Jasanoff’s group at MIT, she focused on studying brain circuitry using novel molecular fMRI techniques, with particular emphasis on functions of the neuromodulator dopamine (Li and Jasanoff, Nature 2020). She and Souparno Ghosh together developed hemogenetic fMRI method, which converts calcium signaling of genetically targeted cells/circuits to fMRI readouts, a noninvasive MRI analog of optical imaging with GCaMP (Li*, Ghosh*, et al., Nature Neuroscience, 2022). Nan was selected as 20 McGovern Rising Stars at MIT in 2020. She is the recipient of the Harvard Chinese Life Sciences Distinguished Research Award, the Stanley Fahn Research Fellowship, Women in Bio Robbie Melton Scholarship Award, the UT System Rising STARs Award, and Endowed Thomas O. Hicks Scholar in Medical Research. 

Dr. Nan Li is currently working on developing novel whole-brain imaging methods to integrate molecular and system neuroscience and solve brain science problems. She is specifically interested in understanding the neural mechanisms of reward, learning, and memory in rodent brains. Nan has always been amazed by the beauty of the brain and is concerned for patients with brain disorders. Leading a cutting-edge neuroimaging research group is quite rewarding. She hopes that ultimately her work will broaden our capacity of functional brain imaging to better understand the fundamental mechanisms and develop treatments for better brain health, which is indeed the greatest reward. 

Research Interest

  • Addiction, OCD, Parkinson's Disease, and other brain disorders
  • Bridge molecular and system neuroscience via novel neuroimaging techniques
  • Functional and molecular MRI technology
  • Genetically targeted fMRI
  • Neural mechanisms for the reward, learning, and memory
  • Small animal MRI methods


Featured Publications LegendFeatured Publications

Functional dissection of neural circuitry using a genetic reporter for fMRI.
Ghosh S, Li N, Schwalm M, Bartelle BB, Xie T, Daher JI, Singh UD, Xie K, DiNapoli N, Evans NB, Chung K, Jasanoff A, Nat Neurosci 2022 Mar 25 3 390-398
Molecular Magnetic Resonance Imaging of Nitric Oxide in Biological Systems.
Barandov A, Ghosh S, Li N, Bartelle BB, Daher JI, Pegis ML, Collins H, Jasanoff A, ACS Sens 2020 06 5 6 1674-1682
Local and global consequences of reward-evoked striatal dopamine release.
Li N, Jasanoff A, Nature 2020 04 580 7802 239-244
Calcium-dependent molecular fMRI using a magnetic nanosensor.
Okada S, Bartelle BB, Li N, Breton-Provencher V, Lee JJ, Rodriguez E, Melican J, Sur M, Jasanoff A, Nat Nanotechnol 2018 06 13 6 473-477
Exceedingly small iron oxide nanoparticles as positive MRI contrast agents.
Wei H, Bruns OT, Kaul MG, Hansen EC, Barch M, Wisniowska A, Chen O, Chen Y, Li N, Okada S, Cordero JM, Heine M, Farrar CT, Montana DM, Adam G, Ittrich H, Jasanoff A, Nielsen P, Bawendi MG, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2017 02 114 9 2325-2330
Study of the spatial correlation between neuronal activity and BOLD fMRI responses evoked by sensory and channelrhodopsin-2 stimulation in the rat somatosensory cortex.
Li N, van Zijl P, Thakor N, Pelled G, J Mol Neurosci 2014 Aug 53 4 553-61
Evidence for impaired plasticity after traumatic brain injury in the developing brain.
Li N, Yang Y, Glover DP, Zhang J, Saraswati M, Robertson C, Pelled G, J Neurotrauma 2014 Feb 31 4 395-403
Peripheral nerve injury induces immediate increases in layer v neuronal activity.
Han Y, Li N, Zeiler SR, Pelled G, Neurorehabil Neural Repair 2013 Sep 27 7 664-72
Optogenetic-guided cortical plasticity after nerve injury.
Li N, Downey JE, Bar-Shir A, Gilad AA, Walczak P, Kim H, Joel SE, Pekar JJ, Thakor NV, Pelled G, Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2011 May 108 21 8838-43
High spatiotemporal resolution imaging of the neurovascular response to electrical stimulation of rat peripheral trigeminal nerve as revealed by in vivo temporal laser speckle contrast.
Li N, Jia X, Murari K, Parlapalli R, Rege A, Thakor NV, J Neurosci Methods 2009 Jan 176 2 230-6

Honors & Awards

  • UT Southwestern Medical Center Endowed Scholar
  • UT System Rising STARS Award
  • 20 McGovern Rising Stars at MIT
  • Harvard Chinese Life Sciences Distinguished Research Award
  • Travel Award at 2019 World Molecular Imaging Congress
  • The Stanley Fahn Research Fellowship