Center for Metabolic and Degenerative Diseases

Mikhail Kolonin, Ph.D. - Professor & Director

Rebecca Berdeaux, Ph.D. - Associate Professor 

Vihang Narkar, Ph.D. - Associate Professor

Qingchun Tong, Ph.D. - Associate Professor

Sheng Zhang, Ph.D. - Associate Professor

Kristin Eckel Mahan, Ph.D. - Assistant Professor 

Nick Justice, Ph.D. - Assistant Professor 

Kai Sun, M.D., Ph.D. - Assistant Professor 

The Center for Metabolic and Degenerative Diseases is a diverse group that takes an integrative approach to tackle some of the most pressing health challenges of our time: obesity and the associated diseases such as diabetes, and cancer, as well as muscle wasting and neurodegenerative diseases. These different health conditions involve defects in multiple related cell signaling pathways and physiological processes. The guiding vision for the Center has been to recruit investigators with focus on complementary aspects of energy metabolism, cell signaling and cell fate determination. Key questions being addressed by the Center’s faculty include the following: 

  • How do white and brown adipocyte progenitors determine adipose tissue function?
  • How does adipose tissue promote progression of cancers and other diseases?
  • Can pharmacological depletion of cells in adipose tissue be used therapeutically?
  • How does fibrosis and inflammation in adipose tissue affect insulin sensitivity?
  • How is angiogenesis implicated in adipose and muscle tissue remodeling?
  • What transcriptional pathways can be targeted to treat muscle diseases?
  • How does the brain and circadian clocks control the body’s energy balance?
  • What are the functions of the genes mutated in neurodegenerative diseases?
  • How does abnormal processing of proteins cause neuronal degeneration?
  • How does stress impact Alzheimer’s disease pathogenesis?


To address these questions, the Center employs state-of-the-art methods in model organisms, including the mouse and the fruit fly. Collaboration among the Center’s laboratories promotes research synergy, thereby increasing productivity and innovation. The Center’s faculty members also collaborate with epidemiologists and clinicians to translate their discoveries for the benefit of patients with metabolic and degenerative diseases.

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

MDD Group