The He Laboratory

Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University

Autophagy, Metabolism, and Behaviors

Welcome to the He Lab!

We aim to understand why intracellular quality control is important for metabolism and behaviors in health and disease, and how to therapeutically exert its optimal function to prevent and treat diseases. Our research projects are centered on intracellular quality control mediated by autophagy (“self-eating”), a lysosomal degradation pathway essential for nutrient recycling, cellular maintenance and physiological function. Autophagy is induced by stress conditions such as fasting and exercise, and allows cells to adapt to changing nutrient and energy demands through protein catabolism.

Our interest focuses on the roles and mechanisms of autophagy in the regulation of metabolism and in the pathogenesis of metabolic and neurological disorders, including obesity, type 2 diabetes, neurodegeneration, and drug abuse. Malfunction of autophagy is implicated in a variety of diseases, such as metabolic disorders, neurodegeneration, cancer, infection and aging; conversely, we have shown that upregulation of autophagy mediates exercise-induced metabolic benefits and protects Alzheimer’s mice from neurodegeneration. We are interested in demonstrating how the autophagy machinery recognizes various cargos and regulates their trafficking, degradation and secretion, including aggregate-prone proteins, secretory proteins and membrane receptors, in metabolic organs and in different neuronal cell types in the brain, and studying how such degradation leads to metabolic and behavioral alterations.