Research Opportunities

Our laboratory is interested in how exercise can be used to prevent or treat obesity and the related conditions of metabolic syndrome and type-2 diabetes. One model that we have experience using is a mouse model of high fat, diet-induced obesity (Jackson Labs C57B/6 mice) that exhibit many of the signs, symptoms and co-morbidities of human obesity seen in Western cultures.  Our model also incorporates sedentary lifestyle and we use exercise as an intervention to prevent HF-diet induced obesity.  One of the most interesting findings with this model is that exercise up-regulates the expression of heat shock protein 70 (Hsp70) in the gut.  This led us to examine an epithelial-specific transgenic mouse that over-expresses Hsp70 in the gut.  Similar to the finding with exercise, Hsp70 transgenic mice are protected from high fat diet-induced obesity, but yet have a normal phenotype in other ways.  We are currently investigating the mechanisms whereby both exercise and Hsp70 over-expression protect against high fat diet-induced obesity (see proposed model below).  A novel mechanism for these effects is a change in the gut microbiota.  We have found that high fat diets produce profound changes in the gut microbiota, but that both exercise and Hsp70 over-expression also alter the microbiota. Exercise or Hsp70-induced changes in gut microbes may underlie some of their protective effects. 

      Exercise and Hsp70 Over-expression Normalize Alterations in the Gut Microbiota and Lipid Metabolism Caused by High Fat Feeding

Our laboratory involves integrated physiology with an emphasis on exercise and gut metabolism and how these impact inflammation and the development of obesity.  From a personal standpoint, I am a physical therapist and believe that exercise plays a fundamental and critical role in health, similar to the role of sleep and nutrition.  The effects of exercise go beyond just expending calories to balance out calorie intake.  Exercise activates anti-inflammatory and metabolic pathways that affect every system, including the gut, to promote health and prevent obesity.  Recent reports in the scientific literature about the beneficial effects of exercise in preventing brain atrophy in the elderly, in maintaining function in Parkinson's disease and in preventing the development of cancer are just some of the many profound ways it may promote health.