Christopher A Zimmerman, PhD

Christopher A Zimmerman, PhD

Helen Hay Whitney Postdoctoral Fellow

Princeton Neuroscience Institute


I study how the brain senses the physiological state of the body and uses that information to control behavior. My goals are to discover and characterize new body-to-brain sensory signals and to identify neural coding mechanisms that link these interoceptive signals to motivation and learning.

Currently: I am a postdoctoral fellow in Ilana Witten’s lab at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute. My main project uses brainwide neural recordings and computational modeling to investigate how body-to-brain signals drive learning. In a separate project, I collaborate with members of the International Brain Laboratory to explore how dopamine modulates brainwide activity during reinforcement learning.

Previously: I was a graduate student in Zachary Knight’s lab in the UCSF Department of Physiology and UCSF Neuroscience Graduate Program. My thesis research focused on the neural mechanisms that govern thirst and drinking behavior. We discovered that sensory signals originating throughout the body — including from the mouth, throat, and gut — come together within individual neurons in the forebrain to produce the sense of thirst and control drinking behavior on a moment-by-moment basis.

Key Publications

Complete list of publications available at Google Scholar and PubMed.
Neuroscience: Secretin excites the thirst circuit. Current Biology 32, R1318⁠–⁠R1320, 2022.
The origins of thirst. Science 370, 45⁠–⁠46, 2020.
Layers of signals that regulate appetite. Current Opinion in Neurobiology 64, 79⁠–⁠88, 2020.
A gut-to-brain signal of fluid osmolarity controls thirst satiation. Nature 568, 98⁠–⁠102, 2019.
The forebrain thirst circuit drives drinking through negative reinforcement. Neuron 96, 1272⁠–⁠1281, 2017.
Neural circuits underlying thirst and fluid homeostasis. Nature Reviews Neuroscience 18, 459⁠–⁠469, 2017.
Thirst neurons anticipate the homeostatic consequences of eating and drinking. Nature 537, 680⁠–⁠684, 2016.

Honors & Awards

McKnight Endowment Fund for Neuroscience
Allison J Doupe Fellowship
Society for Neuroscience
Donald B Lindsley Prize in Behavioral Neuroscience
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Eppendorf & Science Prize for Neurobiology
Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center
Harold M Weintraub Graduate Student Award
Helen Hay Whitney Foundation
Postdoctoral Fellowship
Winter Conference on Brain Research
Travel Fellowship
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
National Research Service Award Predoctoral Fellowship
Genentech Foundation
Predoctoral Fellowship
University of California, San Francisco
Discovery Fellowship
National Science Foundation
Graduate Research Fellowship

Press Coverage

Naked Neuroscience Podcast
How does thirst work in the brain?
Princeton University
Zimmerman wins 2020 Eppendorf & Science Prize
American Association for the Advancement of Science
Real-time signals from body to brain help regulate sensation of thirst
*Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology*
A thirst-quenching gut–brain signal
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Your gut controls your thirst and keeps your brain informed
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Thirst controlled by signal from the gut
University of California, San Francisco
Had enough water? Brain’s thirst centers make a gut check
University of California, San Francisco
New understanding of thirst emerges from brain study


  • Princeton Neuroscience Institute, Room 184E