Ellen A. Lumpkin, PhD

  • Associate Professor of Somatosensory Biology (in Dermatology) and of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics
Profile Headshot


Academic Appointments

  • Associate Professor of Somatosensory Biology (in Dermatology) and of Physiology and Cellular Biophysics

Administrative Titles

  • Co-director, Thompson Family Foundation Initiative in CIPN & Sensory Neuroscience


  • Female

Credentials & Experience

Honors & Awards

Schaefer Scholars Award


The somatosensory system constantly updates the brain about the forces, temperatures and chemicals that bombard the body. The goal of our research is to discover molecular mechanisms that encode these diverse environmental stimuli into neural signals. Our primary focus is to elucidate force transduction mechanisms that initiate the senses of touch and pain. Although Aristotle designated it as one of five basic senses, touch is a complex sense that encompasses numerous modalities, such as pressure, hair movements and vibration. Correspondingly, the touch-sensitive neurons that tile the body's surface display a remarkable array of force sensitivities, neural outputs and cellular morphologies. Although forward genetic screens have identified numerous essential molecules in invertebrate mechanosensory neurons, we are only now beginning to uncover molecular players that govern the unique functions of mammalian touch receptors. We have developed in vitro and in vivo tools to discover the basis of sensory transduction in a discriminative touch receptor, the Merkel cell-neurite complex. These touch receptors innervate high-acuity areas such as fingertips, where they encode spatial features of objects. We use neurophysiological techniques to directly observe how living touch receptors respond to force. We also use molecular approaches and mouse genetics to identify molecules that allow mechanoreceptor cells to sense force. Neural circuits that process tactile information are another area of interest.

Research Interests

  • Biophysics/Ion Channels
  • Cell Specification and Differentiation
  • Mechanosensory Transduction in Mammalian Touch Receptors
  • Sensory Physiology
  • Synapses and Circuits

Selected Publications

Marshall, K. L., M. Chadha, L. Desouza, S. J. Sterbing-D'Angelo, C. F. Moss and E. A. Lumpkin. Somatosensory substrates of flight control in bats. Cell Rep. (2015) 11:851-8. PMID: 25937277.

Maksimovic, S. M., M. Nakatani, Y. Baba, A. M. Nelson, K. L. Marshall, S. A. Wellnitz, P. Firozi S.-H. Woo, S. Ranade, A. Patapoutian and E. A. Lumpkin. Epidermal Merkel cells are mechanosensory cells that actively tune mammalian touch receptors. Nature. (2014) 509:617-621. Equal contribution. PMID: 24717432.

Woo, S.-H., S. Ranade, A. D. Weyer, A. E. Dubin, Y. Baba, Z. Qiu, M. Petrus, T. Miyamoto, K. Reddy, E. A. Lumpkin, C. L. Stucky and A. Patapoutian. Piezo2 is required for Merkel-cell mechanotransduction. Nature. (2014) 509:622-626. PMID: 24717433.

Lesniak, D. R., K. L Marshall, S. A. Wellnitz, B. A. Jenkins, Y. Baba, M. N. Rasband, G. J. Gerling and E. A. Lumpkin. Computation Identifies Structural Features that Govern Neuronal Firing Properties in Slowly Adapting Touch Receptors. eLife. (2014) 3:e01488. Equal contribution. PMID: 24448409

Wilson, S., A. M. Nelson, L. Batia, T. Morita, D. M. Owens, E. A. Lumpkin and D. M. Bautista. TRPA1 is required for chronic itch. J. Neurosci. (2013) 33: 9283-9294. PMID: 23719797.

Maksimovic, S. M., Y. Baba and E. A. Lumpkin. Neurotransmitters and synaptic components in the Merkel cell-neurite complex, a gentle-touch receptor. Ann. NY Acad. Sci. (2013) 1279: 13-21.

Woo, S. H., M. Stumpfova, U. Jensen, E. A. Lumpkin and D. M. Owens. Identification of epidermal progenitors for the Merkel cell lineage. Development. (2010) 137: 3965-3971. PMID: 21041368.

Wellnitz, S. A., D. R. Lesniak, G. J. Gerling and E. A. Lumpkin. (2010) The regularity of sustained firing reveals two populations of slowly adapting touch receptors in mouse hairy skin. J. Neurophysiol. 103:3378-3388. PMID: 20393068. 

Maricich, S. M., S. Wellnitz, A. M. Nelson, D. R. Lesniak, G. J. Gerling, E. A. Lumpkin* and H. Zoghbi* (2009) Merkel cells are essential for light touch responses in mice. Science. 324:1580-1582. *Corresponding. 

Bhattacharya, M. R. C., D. M. Bautista*, K. Wu, E. A. Lumpkin* and D. Julius* (2008) Radial stretch reveals distinct populations of mechanosensitive mammalian somatosensory neurons. PNAS 105: 20015-20020. *Corresponding.

Haeberle H., L. A. Bryan, T. J. Vadakkan, M. E. Dickinson and E. A. Lumpkin (2008) Swelling-activated calcium channels trigger calcium transients in Merkel cells. PLoS ONE 3(e1750): 1-10. 

Piskorowski R. A., H. Haeberle, M. V. Panditrao and E. A. Lumpkin (2008) Voltage-activated ion channels and Ca2+-induced Ca2+ release shape Ca2+ signaling in Merkel cells. Pflugers Archiv 457: 197-209. PMID: 18415122.

Lumpkin, E. A. and M. J. Caterina (2007) Mechanisms of sensory transduction in the skin. Nature. 445: 858-865. PMID: 17314972. 

Haeberle, H., M. Fujiwara, J. Chuang, M. M. Medina, M. V. Panditrao, S. Bechstedt, J. Howard and E. A. Lumpkin (2004) Molecular profiling reveals synaptic release machinery in Merkel cells. PNAS 101: 14503-14508. PMID: 15448211