We are neuroscientists who study the hypothalamus, a small but powerful brain region that controls a variety of physiologies, including feeding, puberty, reproduction, thirst, and sleep. The hypothalamus is organized into a dozen distinct clusters of neurons (called nuclei), with each nucleus containing specialized cell types that are subcompartmentalized into clear domains. To start, we are focused on the ventromedial nucleus (VMH) within the tuberal hypothalamic region, comprising of the arcuate nucleus (ARC), VMH, and dorsomedial nucleus (DMH). We are especially interested in the VMH because it plays a role in hunger and displays a relatively simple spatial organization of three recognizable subdomains, VMHDM, VMHC, VMHVL. We use both mice and zebrafish to uncover the genetic code that dictates the identity and movement of newly born VMH neurons to specific positions within the nucleus. This contained model enables us to ask fundamental questions about binary fate decisions, cell sorting mechanisms, and neuronal mobility processes.
We also study the cellular basis of fetal programming by applying our knowledge of hypothalamic development to understand on a molecular level how an adverse in utero environment (e.g., poor maternal health -- obesity, depression, stress) alters normal developmental steps. By defining the consequences of toxic stress during key windows of development, we will be positioned to understand how environmental insults translate into obesity later in life.
Finally, as a side project in the lab, we use zebrafish as a tool to screen re-purposed drug libraries to uncover new uses for known agents for various CNS disorders.