Sean Adams, Ph.D.
Department of Pediatrics
Section of Developmental Nutrition
Our research aims to understand the molecular events that underlie metabolic disease (e.g., type 2 diabetes) and obesity development, which can then inform on strategies to improve health and fitness, and to prevent disease in children and adults.
First, we conduct studies that span from the sub-cellular to the whole body to characterize the mechanisms by which nutrition and physical activity alter metabolic physiology. More specifically, we conduct metabolomics research that interrogates hundreds of metabolites to develop “signatures” that track metabolic status and fitness, and follow up with more specific experiments to examine if and how specific pathways or metabolites impact cell systems. Fatty acylcarnitines, for instance, are fatty acid derivatives that—when in excess—can elicit muscle cell stress responses relevant to diabetes, cardiac ischemia and inborn errors of metabolism. Recent work has led to the discovery that these fat metabolites can bind to oxygenated myoglobin in muscle, raising the possibility that this protein helps sequester and traffic fuel with oxygen in working muscle.
Second, we partner with other ACNC colleagues to study the interactions between the gut microbiome and host. Dietary factors, such as fiber, resistant starch, and even postnatal breastfeeding vs. formula, alter the bacterial ecology in the intestines. This, in turn, elicits physiological changes in the gut, liver, and other tissues. We suspect that specific metabolites derived from bacteria (“xenometabolites”) play a role. The microbiome-host communication is a two-way street: with this in mind, other studies focus on how one’s own metabolic health status regulates the intestinal microbiome, regardless of diet. Altogether, these experiments will provide information that helps us understand how specific foods or food components trigger specific microbiome metabolism changes that improve health and reduce disease risk.