Center for Metabolic and Degenerative Diseases

Focuses on noninsulin-dependent diabetes, the most common form of the disease affecting our population today. By investigating the genes responsible for risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol, we may provide physicians with the new tools to help diagnose and treat diabetes long before debilitating complications can arise, or even before the disease itself can strike.


Mikhail Kolonin, PhD – Professor & Director

Vihang Narkar, PhD– Professor

Qingchun Tong, PhD – Professor

Rebecca Berdeaux, PhD– Associate Professor

Kristin Eckel Mahan, PhD – Associate Professor

Nick Justice, PhD– Associate Professor

Kai Sun, MD, PhD – Associate Professor

Sheng Zhang, PhD – Associate Professor

Richard Cox, PhD – Assistant Professor

Yu (Aaron) An, MD, PhD– Assistant Professor


The Center for Metabolic and Degenerative Diseases unites eight laboratories that collaborate to investigate aging- and obesity-associated diseases, including cancer. Mechanistic changes in brain activity, energy metabolism, vascular function, cell signaling, protein homeostasis, and cell fate determination that lead to pathophysiology are being interrogated in animal models and studies of clinical specimens. The primary interests include the crosstalk between brain and adipose tissue, as well as integrative physiology changes leading to dysfunction of organs such as liver and skeletal muscle. Questions pursued by the Center’s faculty include the following:

  • Which cells stop dividing with age, leading to aging-associated disease?
  • What are the mechanisms underlying circadian rhythms in adipocyte progenitor proliferation?
  • Which cells of adipose and muscle tissue can be targeted for therapeutic purposes and how?
  • How does lipid metabolism change during cancer progression and cachexia development?
  • How does transient inflammation activate heat production by fat tissue?
  • What are the mechanisms linking blood vessel formation with the nervous system?
  • How do stress hormones regulate sugar and fat utilization in diabetes?
  • What is the molecular basis of exercise benefits in metabolic and cardiovascular disease?
  • How do the brain and peripheral clocks control energy balance and metabolism?
  • How does the hepatic circadian clock protect against fatty liver disease and liver cancer?
  • How does the brain control glucose homeostasis in diabetes?
  • What are the functions of the genes mutated in neurodegenerative diseases?
  • How does disruption of membrane trafficking and cell homeostasis cause neurodegeneration?
  • How does stress accelerate the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease?
  • How does bearing children contribute to late-life onset of depression, anxiety, and dementia?
  • What are the mechanisms driving adipocyte mitochondrial dysfunction and promoting obesity?
  • What factors mediate the communication between different fat pads or between adipocytes and other metabolic organs under a mitochondrial distress condition?

Collaboration among the Center’s laboratories promotes research synergy, thereby increasing productivity and innovation. The Center’s members collaborate with clinicians and epidemiologists to translate their discoveries for the benefit of patients with metabolic and degenerative diseases.

MDD 2015 August

From (L to R) –  Kai Sun, MD, PhD (Associate Professor), Sheng Zhang, PhD (Associate Professor), Qingchun Tong, PhD (Professor), Mikhail Kolonin, PhD (Professor & Center Director), Nick Justice, PhD (Associate Professor), Kristin Eckel Mahan, PhD (Associate Professor), Vihang Narkar, PhD (Professor), Rebecca Berdeaux, PhD (Associate Professor)