Simerly, Richard, Department of Molecular Physiology and Biophysics
Richard Simerly, Ph.D.
Louise B. McGavock Professor
Department of Molecular Physiology & Biophysics
Vanderbilt University School of Medicine
We study how environmental factors, such as nutrition and hormones, impact the development of neural circuits that control behavior and metabolism, in order to better understand how early events in an individual’s life influence behavior and metabolic physiology. We discovered that the fat-derived hormone leptin is a major developmental signal that participates in metabolic programming of the hypothalamus. Using genetically targeted fluorescent labels, and both in vitro and in vivo conditional regulation of gene expression, we are determining if manipulations of genes known to participate in brain development also influence development of leptin-sensitive pathways that mediate hypothalamic responses to changes in energy balance. In addition to histochemistry, confocal microscopy and image analysis, we use light sheet microscopy to visualize large tissue volumes, and in vivo calcium imaging to record network activity. This approach allows us to interrogate the functional significance of metabolically programmed changes in neural architecture, with direct implications for understanding the developmental origins of obesity and diabetes.