Neurobiology of energy balance

Appropriate partitioning of nutrients and energy is essential to optimum growth and development. In obesity surplus nutrients and energy are deposited as fat, whereas stunting (a major problem in the developing world) results from the lack of key nutrients and energy.
Understanding the basic mechanisms that determine the amount we eat and how we balance this energetically is fundamental to finding solutions to the problems of both obesity and stunting.

Research Focus

Growth, food intake and energy balance are all regulated by neuronal circuits in the hypothalamus of the brain. My research focuses how environmental signals (i.e. light/dark cycles and diet) influence profound and robust changes in the long-term regulation of these key physiological axes. My interest is in how cellular remodelling and neuronal plasticity within the hypothalamus may underpin these long-term changes in neuroendocrine function. The ependymal and tanycyte cells around the third ventricle are an important interface between the environmental signals and the neuroendocrine system, with vitamin A and thyroid hormone signalling playing a key role. My interest is in how inflammatory pathways in the hypothalamus may mediate the effects of these and other dietary signals to modulate long-term changes in growth, food intake and energy balance.

  • BBSRC grant  BB/K001043/1  Inflammatory signals regulate neuroendocrine control of growth and energy balance through re-modelling of mammalian hypothalamus  (2012-2015) £635,463.
  • BBSRC DTP EastBio PhD Studentship grant; Gut-mediated immunomodulation of food intake and body composition
  • BBSRC grant BB/G01427/1 Retinoic acid signalling within the hypothalamus is essential to the photoperiodic neuroendocrine response (2009-2012) £ 684,614.
  • Scottish Government, Rural & Environment Science & Analytical Services Grant to the Rowett Institute (Director); (2011-2016) ca: £9million pa
  • Stoney, PN., Rodrigues, D., Helfer, G., Khatib, T., Ashton, A., Hay, EA., Starr, R., Kociszewska, D., Morgan, P. & McCaffery, P. (2017). 'A seasonal switch in histone deacetylase gene expression in the hypothalamus and their capacity to modulate nuclear signaling pathways'. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, vol 61, pp. 340-352.
    [Online] DOI: 10.1016/j.bbi.2016.12.013
    [Online] AURA: A_seasonal_switch_in_histone_deacetylase_gene_expression_in_...
  • Barrett, P., Mercer, JG. & Morgan, PJ. (2016). 'Preclinical models for obesity research'. Disease Models & Mechanisms, vol 9, no. 11, pp. 1245-1255.
    [Online] DOI: 10.1242/dmm.026443
    [Online] AURA: 1245.full.pdf
  • Stoney, PN., Fragoso, Y., Bu Saeed, R., Ashton, A., Goodman, T., Simons, C., Gomaa, MS., Sementilli, A., Sementilli, L., Ross, AW., Morgan, PJ. & McCaffery, PJ. (2016). 'Expression of the retinoic acid catabolic enzyme CYP26B1 in the human brain to maintain signaling homeostasis'. Brain Structure and Function, vol 221, no. 6, pp. 3315-3326.
    [Online] DOI: 10.1007/s00429-015-1102-z
    [Online] AURA: art_3A10.1007_2Fs00429_015_1102_z.pdf
  • Helfer, G., Ross, AW., Thomson, LM., Mayer, CD., Stoney, PN., McCaffery, PJ. & Morgan, PJ. (2016). 'A neuroendocrine role for chemerin in hypothalamic remodelling and photoperiodic control of energy balance'. Scientific Reports, vol 6, 26830.
    [Online] DOI: 10.1038/srep26830
    [Online] AURA: srep26830.pdf
  • Stoney, PN., Helfer, G., Rodrigues, D., Morgan, PJ. & McCaffery, P. (2016). 'Thyroid hormone activation of retinoic acid synthesis in hypothalamic tanycytes'. Glia, vol 64, no. 3, pp. 425-439.
    [Online] DOI: 10.1002/glia.22938
    [Online] AURA: Stoney_et_al_Glia.pdf
  • Ross, AW., Russell, L., Helfer, G., Thomson, LM., Dalby, MJ. & Morgan, PJ. (2015). 'Photoperiod Regulates Lean Mass Accretion, but Not Adiposity, in Growing F344 Rats Fed a High Fat Diet'. PLoS ONE, vol 10, no. 3, 0119763.
    [Online] DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0119763
    [Online] AURA: Ross_PLOS_2015.pdf
Additional Activities


  • Member of BBSRC Basic Bioscience Underpinning Health Strategy Panel
  • Member of BBSRC DRINC Steering Group
  • Working Group on Food, Nutrition and Health
  • Working Group on Biofortification of Crops

Other Activites

  • External Advisory Committee of the Institute for Food and Health, University College Dublin
  • Member of Food Economy Task Force
  • Reviews Editor for the Journal of Neuroendocrinology
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh
  • Convener of Directors Executive Committee for Scottish Research Institutes/Organisations (Rowett, James Hutton, Moredun, SRUC and Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh)