Funded Research

The Role of Divalent Metal Cation Homeostasis in Obesity
Principal Investigator(s):
  • Center for Metabolism and Immunity
Award Mechanism:
Interdisciplinary Research Initiative
Project Period:
2/1/2009 - 1/31/2013
Total Amount:
Jennifer Duncan, Angie Lamora
Childhood obesity is increasingly becoming a major public health issue. Yet, the genetic and environmental factors underlying obesity are still poorly understood. One of the core processes underlying obesity is the interplay between organismal energy balance and the regulation of feeding (“energy input”). One model for how the brain “knows” when to induce feeding behavior is by sensing the levels of energy needs in special cellular compartment called “mitochondrion”. The goal of the proposed project is to identify how specific genetic and environmental factors, namely dietary metals, can affect the function of mitochondria in the brain, and whether such specific disruptions in mitochondrial functions could contribute to the development of obesity. This project will take advantage of the powerful genetic model of the fruit fly Drosophila, which has been extremely beneficial for studies of the genetic and molecular mechanisms underlying many different human diseases. The Ben-Shahar lab in collaboration with the Duncan lab will test the hypotheses that genetic or dietary disruptions of metal ion balance in the brain can result in mitochondrial dysfunctions, leading to a dissociation of the tight link between maintaining healthy food intake and organismal energy balance. This work could lead to the identification of a new underlying cause for the development of childhood obesity, and to possibly new targets for its treatment in the future.