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2014-2015 Scientific Report |


The following provides a sample of some of the

achievements resulting from the broad range of

work carried out in laboratories at Pennington


Regulating blood glucose levels:


physiologists have discovered new ways of studying

the communications between certain types of

brain cells, astrocytes, and neurons. This live-cell

imaging technique has allowed our basic scientists

to determine that astrocyte glucose detectors, and

their communications with neurons are important

factors determining how the body regulates blood

glucose levels. Glucose is a critical energy source

for the brain, so this type of detection is essential

to survival. This discovery may lead to new ways of

thinking about how the brain monitors the nutrient

levels in our bodies and how that may influence our

desire for food and thus our feeding behavior; from

overeating and under eating, to cravings for certain

food types. Techniques developed for the study of

glucose detection by the brain have been adapted

by Pennington Biomedical scientists to the study

of how inflammation destroys the ability of beta

cells in the pancreas to release insulin in response

to high levels of glucose. This new approach has

the potential to challenge current ideas about how

obesity and infection can lead to reduced insulin

secretion and the onset of diabetes.


This novel, state-of-the-art

technique was introduced to Louisiana by our

researchers. Using this innovative methodology,

our researchers found that they can stimulate very

specific kinds of neurons in live animals by using

pulses of light applied to optical microfibers placed

in the brains of mice. We used these novel methods

to identify the specific type of neurons in the brain

associated with hunger that control the pleasure we

experience when eating sugar or fat.

Skeletal Muscle:

Our scientists are engaged in

the study of skeletal muscle. It is well known that

muscle mass can decrease with aging. Further,

with age and obesity, muscle loses its ability to

respond to insulin by taking up glucose from the

blood. This is a principal cause of type 2 diabetes.

Our investigators are studying the fundamentals of

muscle metabolism to understand how aging and

chronic inflammation can be reversed so as to

prevent the development of diabetes.

Inflammation and Botanicals:

Our scientists are

focused on understanding how inflammatory pro-

cesses that occur within adipose tissue in obesity

contributes to the development of type 2 diabetes.

This is not only an essential area of obesity re-

search, it also informs one of the research cores

essential to our botanical research. Pennington

Biomedical is home to the Botanical Dietary Sup-

plements Research Center, one of only three such

centers in the U.S. and the only one focused primar-

ily on obesity and diabetes. Over one-third of drugs

come from plants. We are working with botanists at

the University of Louisiana Lafayette to study native

plants that have a folk history used in creole cul-

ture. The study of these plants has led to the identi-

fication of plants that might be useful in combatting

metabolic disease states that damage adipose tis-

sue function and contribute to obesity and diabetes.

Learn more.

Maternal Diabetes:

Our work has revealed the

process by which maternal diabetes can cause

devastating spinal cord defects such as spina bifida

in the developing fetus. This work has been recog-

nized as fundamental to our understanding of such

birth defects.

Obesity Treatment Options:

Our researchers

are tackling one of the most perplexing aspects of

gastric bypass surgery for the correction of obesity

– the rapid elimination of diabetes that is a hallmark

of the obesity epidemic. Using microsurgical

models for several forms of gastric bypass in

mouse models, our investigators have found that

the radical changes in food intake patterning

demanded by the surgery is responsible for most of

the effects to eliminate diabetes.


A focus on the microbiome.

The human

gastrointestinal tract harbors a “microbiome”

of as many as 100 trillion bacteria from up to

1000 distinct species, and this volatile population

of microbes participates in biologic processes

including nutrition, digestion, and growth; as


Our basic science researchers are providing the building blocks vital to advancing chronic disease discovery across a range of areas including diabetes, obesity,

stem cell and developmental biology, and neurobiology. Some of their achievements during this reporting period and a look toward the future are highlighted


Learn more

about Dr. Heike Muenzberg-Gruening (pictured).