Abnormalities in lipid metabolism are major contributing factors to various disease states including obesity, diabetes, and cardiomyopathies. Together, these diseases are the leading cause of death in the United States and most other developed countries. It is hypothesized that high circulating levels of lipids lead to internalization and the resultant lipoatrophies of normal cells and tissues. Prevention of these disease states and therapeutic intervention therefore is desired and requires an understanding of the underlying molecular mechanisms leading to transport and trafficking of fatty acids.
The primary focus of the work in our laboratory is to determine the components and mechanisms governing exogenous fatty acid transport across a biological membrane. These efforts use both cell and mouse models and are coupled with the use of stable isotopically labeled exogenous fatty acids and high-resolution methods that distinguish exogenous from endogenous fatty acids. Our studies extend to the intracellular trafficking of exogenous fatty acids, which address both the specificity and selectivity of this process at the plasma membrane and within discrete intracellular metabolic pools and how these process contribute to normal physiology, and when dysfunctional lead to disease.
More recently our efforts have extended into defining lipid metabolic pathways in eukaryotic green algae as part of collaborative efforts to exploit algae as a source of biomass for renewable fuels. These efforts include development of high-resolution methods to quantify triglyceride production, define the pathways of lipid remodeling within the membrane, and genetic engineering of key lipid metabolic pathways to maximize triglyceride synthesis.