Pablo Blanco Martinez de Morentin

Obesity and its associated diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, are a major health challenge and a drain on world economies. Obesity is a state of positive energy balance, where energy intake is higher than energy expenditure. Thus, theoretically, generating a negative energy balance by reducing food intake and/or increasing energy expenditure would decrease body weight.

Historically, most medications to tackle body weight reduction have targeted food intake and less effort has been directed to increase the energy expenditure. However, the recent identification of a functional thermogenic adipose tissue in adult humans could provide new options. This tissue is a type of fat known as brown adipose tissue (BAT) that provides body heat to hibernating animals by burning fat stores (thermogenesis). The thermogenic capacity of BAT makes it a unique tissue capable of reducing fat excess by dissipating energy as heat. The discovery that BAT is also present and functional in humans has thus opened new possibilities of treating obesity.

I recently discovered that a strategic area in our brain already implicated in the regulation of energy expenditure, called the ventromedial nucleus of the hypothalamus (VMH), controls BAT activity. However, it’s not known yet how the VMH neurons work together to achieve this. My research career has focused in understanding how our brain controls the thermogenic process in the BAT. Using new technologies I am now able to distinguish different neuron populations in the VMH with distinct but complementary functions in thermogenic regulation. This project will allow me to define new components that drive energy expenditure and may lead to the development of new strategies to combat obesity.