Interdisciplinary PhD Training in the Neurosciences
Alan G. Watts
Department of Biological Sciences
President-elect, The Society for the Study of Ingestive Behaviors
Neural control of metabolism
Our work is directed towards understanding how the brain contributes to the development, manifestation, and complications of diabetes and obesity. We do this in two projects that focus on the neural control of energy metabolism.
The first project investigates how peripheral metabolism interacts with the brain to generate adrenocortical and sympathoadrenal hormonal responses. In particular, we are interested in the way that two critical metabolic signals--glucocorticoid hormones and blood glucose (glycemia)--are sensed by the brain, and then generate appropriate counter-regulatory responses.
How the brain and the body senses changes in blood glucose is a fundamental physiological process, the understanding of which is critical to the etiolology of both forms of diabetes. We are interested in how glucocorticoids and neurotransmitters interact with neurons in the hypothalamus, which is a major integrative locus for metabolic control. A major focus of our work is on sets of hindbrain catecholaminergic neurons that project to the forebrain. These neurons are crucial for detecting and encoding information about blood glucose levels. We investigate the way that catecholaminergic neurons and glucocorticoids affect signal transduction and gene regulatory mechanisms in sets of forebrain neurons responsible for regulating metabolism in health and disease.
The second project investigates the neural basis of anorexia using dehydration as a physiological challenge. The goal here is to understand the structure and functional interactions between the neural systems that inhibit and stimulate feeding, particularly between the cortex, hypothalamus, and hindbrain.
The techniques we use include: whole animal physiology, in situ hybridization, immunocytochemistry (with confocal and conventional immunofluorescence), tract-tracing, behavioral analysis, and neuroinfomatics.