Research

Research

          The Liu lab investigates genetic and environmental factors leading towards obesity and metabolic syndrome in children and adolescents.

          Deficiency in the central melanocortin pathway causes early-onset obesity in humans. In the lab, we study how melanocortin neurons emerge in the developing hypothalamus as well as how functional feeding circuits are assembled during critical developmental periods. To this end, we conduct cell-type specific transcriptomic analyses to identify key developmental regulators and study their roles in mice using gene-editing (CRISPR-Cas9). [Hypothalamic Development]

          Moreover, the obesity epidemic has been associated with an increased use of atypical antipsychotics (AATP) in children and young adults. Despite their broad efficacy, most AATPs (e.g. olanzapine, risperidone) can cause the drug-induced metabolic syndrome that is characterized by excessive weight gain, dyslipidemia, and type-2 diabetes. We previously discovered that olanzapine (one commonly prescribed AATP) acts on the serotonin 2C receptor to cause excessive weight gain.  We continue to use a combination of neuroanatomical, genetic, and behavioral analyses to interrogate the brain serotonin (5-HT) circuits that regulate energy balance. [Brain 5-HT and Metabolism]

          We thank the generous support from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), and the American Heart Association. Our research is also supported by a Research Start-up Fund, a Pilot & Feasibility Award, and a Grossman Endowment Award for Diabetes Research from UT Southwestern Medical Center.