Dr. Kristin L. Eckel-Mahan
The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
McGovern Medical School
Institute of Molecular Medicine
The goals of my lab center on the role of the circadian clock in health and disease. Circadian rhythms, which are endogenous, self-perpetuating oscillations of 24-hr periodicity, are present in almost all cells of the body. When the circadian clock is disrupted genetically or environmentally, several deleterious outcomes result, including accelerated aging, cancer, and metabolic imbalance. We are trying to understand why circadian disruption produces these effects.
While the central pacemaker of the brain is entrained by light, circadian oscillations in peripheral organs are heavily influenced by other zeitgebers (“time-givers”) such as food. When clocks across the body are desynchronized, metabolic disease results. Our current experiments include those designed to reveal which zeitgebers are most important for tissue-specific clock function and the mechanisms underlying their zeitgeber properties. In addition, we are interested in how disrupted peripheral clocks communicate back to the brain and alter neuronal function within the central pacemaker, the suprachiasmatic nucleus, as well as other regions of the CNS.
Current projects in the lab include 1) the circadian mechanisms by which specific nuclear receptors contribute to metabolism and cell growth in the liver, 2) mechanisms responsible for diet-induced circadian desynchrony across the body, and 3) tumor suppressors which use the circadian clock to harness uncontrolled cell proliferation. These experiments depend on several mouse models of circadian disruption as well as in vitro approaches for studying clock function.