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Research

Our interests in the neuroendocrine control of body fat lie at the intersection of neuroscience and physiology. We take a molecular genetic approach to adress the 3 major focus areas in the lab.

Genetics

A major goal of the lab is to identify conserved genes with previously uncharacterized roles in fat metabolism and energy regulation. To ths end, we perform RNAi-based, forward-genetic and chemical screens for phenotypes associated with energy regulation: food intake and feeding behavior, fat content, and energy expenditure. In conjunction with genetic epistasis analysis, tissue- specific and sub-cellular localization and biochemical studies, we build molecular genetic pathways to explain organismal phenomena at a molecular level.

 

Behavior

We find that the sensory nervous system is a major locus of body fat control. Defects in sensory perception and sensory signaling profoundly alter peripheral fat metabolism, independent of the effects of food intake. Neuromodulators such as serotonin relay behavioral states and environmental information from the sensory nervous system to alter body fat via unknown endocrine mechanisms. Imaging studies reveal that the extent of body fat may also sculpt the response of the nervous system to external sensory stimuli. Using live imaging of neural activity and transgenic reporters that indicate metabolic status, we study these phenomena with the goal of identifying the molecular basis of communication between the nervous system and body fat stores.

 

Environment

In the wild, most animals including C. elegans are exposed to a variety of food sources and environmental chemicals. Animals must discriminate between the available food choices, defend against toxins, and adjust their metabolism to suit the environment. Deciphering the homeostatic mechanisms that underlie these processes offers an opportunity to understand the flexibility and adaptability of metabolic states. We are interested in the molecular basis of this homeostatic adaptation. 

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