Our society has made a great progress in reducing diseases caused by nutrient deficiency. However, diseases associated with nutrient excess or imbalances including cardiovascular disease, obesity and diabetes present new challenges to nutrition research. To address these challenges, we need to understand how our body adjusts its metabolism to a wide variety of diets by “sensing” nutritional conditions. An important mechanism for this adaptive response is changing the expression of genes involved in the metabolic process. Our group has been investigating molecular mechanisms by which macronutrients (protein, carbohydrate and fat) and their metabolites regulate gene expression. Advancing our knowledge of the fundamental mechanism underlying metabolic adaptation, or failure of adaptation, will greatly contribute to the development of efficacious strategies for the nutritional prevention of obesity and chronic metabolic diseases. Currently we focus on the following four research areas.
What do polyunsaturated fats do in our body?
Excess intake of some types of fats is certainly harmful to our health. However, other types of fats, called essential fatty acids (also called polyunsaturated fatty acids, PUFAs), must be consumed in the diet. Essential fatty acids and their metabolic products exert important physiological functions in our body including inflammation, hemostasis and regulation of fat metabolism. In addition to these essential functions, some PUFAs provide further health benefits by acting as functional foods when it is supplied beyond dietary requirements. Our laboratory studies how PUFAs regulate genes for fat metabolism including regulation of their own synthesis. Our laboratory also created the a gene knockout mouse, in which the delta-6 desaturase gene is disabled, to study functions of PUFAs in brain, reproduction, skin and the immune system. The main focus of current research is to elucidate the molecular mechanism underlying an essential function of DHA in sperm development.Not all carbohydrates are created equal
Glucose and fructose are the major carbohydrates in our diets. Fructose consumption has been increasing in the past decades. Effects of fructose on our health may not be the same as those of glucose because fructose has to be metabolized primarily by liver via a different metabolic pathway. We investigate molecular basis by which fructose and glucose differentially regulate genes for energy metabolism.Macronutrient composition for optimal health
We know a minimum requirement of macronutrients. However, a diet composition of protein, carbohydrate and fat for long-term optimal health is still a contentious issue. We investigate interaction of macronutrients in development of obesity and chronic diseases to find effective prevention through foods and nutrition. In particular, our focus is the interaction between marginal protein deficiency and other nutrients in energy balance and glycemic control.
From molecule to community
Scientific knowledge can be a powerful tool to advance well being of our society. However, useful nutrition knowledge could be easily lost in the sea of misinformation. Thus, our lab has developed a new nutrient profiling system to deliver nutrition knowledge effectively. Another main focus of current research of our lab is to test the efficacy of the new system in prevention and treatment of obesity.