Dr. Pingwen Xu

Associate Professor

Department of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism


Rotation Projects

The long-term goal of our research is to delineate essential neural pathways for energy balance, glucose homeostasis, binge eating/drinking, and other related behavior. We hope our research will provide rational targets for developing therapeutic strategies to combat obesity and associated metabolic disorders. Our research team has expertise in physiology and neuroendocrinology, specifically in metabolic profiling, pharmacological pathway analysis, and neural circuit mapping. Our previous work has resulted in papers in Journal of Clinical Investigation (2014, 2015, 2019), Nature Communication (2018, 2019), Biological Psychiatry (2017), Molecular Psychiatry (2019, 2021), Cell Reports (2016a, 2016b, 2017), Diabetes (2016), Hypertension (2016), Metabolism (2016), Endocrinology (2013, 2015a, 2015b). The laboratory has demonstrated a record of successful and productive research projects in central control of energy homeostasis. Our research so far has been continuously funded by NIH and DOD awards (K99/R00, R01, DOD Innovative grant), which directly supports the experiments related to trainees’ projects. Moreover, the lab has generous support from the Division of Endocrinology as part of the start-up package over the next few years. Therefore, the resources to sustain trainees’ research are present. As an active research group, we have multiple projects (>10) simultaneously in the lab, allowing students to pick projects that fit their career goals and timeline.

Project 1: Type 2 diabetes (T2D) is now recognized as a severe global health problem. The gut microbiota has recently been identified to contribute to obesity, insulin resistance, and the subsequent development of T2D, but how it modulates metabolism is unclear. We propose to determine if gut microbiota-derived nutrient metabolites, short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs), act on the central nervous system (CNS) to regulate body weight balance. Moreover, we will assess if dysfunction of this central pathway contributes to the development of obesity, and ultimately if enhancement of its functions can treat obesity and prevent diabetes.

Project 2: Ovarian hormone estrogens have been shown to contribute to sex dimorphic regulation of adipose
tissue metabolism. However, the roles of estrogen-initiated crosstalk between brain and fat in determining sex- and depot-specific adipose tissue function is still unknown. This research aims to unravel the molecular and neurocircuitry mechanisms for the link between brain estrogen neural circuits and fatspecific sympathetic nervous system and test if this connection mediates the sex differences in adipose tissue metabolism.

Please contact current GEM students in the lab for more information: Leslie Saenz lsaenz3@uic.edu and Valeria Torres Irizarry vtorre26@uic.edu.

Projects highlighted for rotation

2021 Chicago Society For Neuroscience Annual Meeting

– A Ventral Medial Hypothalamus Estrogen Receptor