ATLANTA—A Georgia State University biologist has received a four-year, $1.37 million grant from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, a division of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), to identify a novel therapeutic target in obesity.
“Obesity as a complex metabolic disease is the result of gene and environmental interactions, and epigenetic mechanisms have recently emerged as an important link between environmental factors and obesity,” said Bingzhong Xue, recipient of the award and associate professor in the Department of Biology at Georgia State.
White adipose tissue stores extra energy as fat and brown adipose tissue generates heat using available energy sources from the body. The presence of additional brown adipose tissue in the body may lead to increased energy expenditure rather than storing extra energy in fat tissues.
“Inducing brown adipocytes in white fat may represent a novel approach in the prevention and treatment of obesity,” Xue said. “We are studying the mechanisms by which brown adipocytes can be induced in white fat depots using cellular and molecular biology techniques, whole genome profiling approaches and genetically engineered mouse models.”
Epigenetics is a mechanism the body uses to regulate gene expression in response to environmental changes without altering the DNA sequence, involving various modifications on DNA molecules and histone structures, which are essential building blocks of genetic materials.
“We find such changes can determine whether an adipocyte behaves more like a brown or a white adipocyte and thus are involved in the regulation of whole body energy balance,” Xue said. “This is a unique strength of my grant as we hope to identify novel epigenetic targets that link environmental factors, such as diet, to obesity.”
Xue’s research focuses on the molecular basis of energy homeostasis, including central and peripheral regulation of energy balance, insulin sensitivity, lipid and cholesterol metabolism, and brown and white adipocyte biology, by using transgenic/knockout models, molecular biology techniques and physiological approaches.