One of our laboratory's major goals is to understand how the brain, notably the hypothalamus, regulates appetite and body weight. Defects in the brain pathways that regulate these processes may be responsible for wasting conditions such as anorexia nervosa and cancer cachexia as well as the metabolic resistance to weight loss that often occurs when people try to shed excess weight (the ‘famine reaction’).
Our main focus is on neuropeptide Y (NPY) and its Y-receptors (Y1, Y2, Y4, Y5 and Y6), since many of the molecules that regulate appetite and body weight do so via interaction with the hypothalamic NPY-ergic system. Over the years we have developed sophisticated conditional and transgenic mouse models that allow us to dissect the actions of signalling molecules such as dynorphins and neuropeptide Y on various cell types. Clinical collaborations allow us to collect patient data to test theories relating to modifying appetite and weight.
An intriguing finding in our research is that the very molecules that regulate body weight also regulate aggression, fertility as well as growth and development of lean body tissues such as muscle and bone. Therefore a second emphasis of our research is to understand how molecules in the hypothalamus influence moods and behaviour, fertility, growth, and immune system function. Our research findings have implications for the development of improved weight loss strategies, as well as novel treatments for infertility, poor lactation, dwarfism, osteoporosis, anorexia nervosa and cancer cachexia.