It is essential for animals to maintain their body temperature (Tc) at the optimal level. However, our understanding of the homeostasis of thermoregulation does not match to its importance to the survival and health of the organism. The Wang Lab aims to elucidate the cellular and molecular mechanism underlying the physiology that controls Tc, including the maintenance of Tc at rest and the crosstalk between Tc and other physiology and behavior, such as drinking, feeding, sleep, and circadian clock.
Mammals, as endotherms (warm-blooded animals), maintain a stable core Tc around 37°C (the “set-point” at rest). The homeostasis of thermoregulation means to keep the Tc around the set-point, even when the environmental temperature varies considerably. While most studies in the field of thermoregulation focus on lab animals’ systemic responses to environmental temperature changes, little is known about how the central nervous system controls the set-point of Tc. One of the main projects in the Wang Lab is to identify the cellular and molecular substrates dictating the Tc set-point.
Daily rhythms of physiology, metabolism, and behavior align internal state with the cycle of day and night. They are generated by cellular circadian clocks, in which a genetic oscillator plays an essential role. Nearly all cells in peripheral body tissues possess these ~24-h clocks, but they are synchronized to the environment and internally coordinated by a central pacemaker, the brain’s suprachiasmatic nucleus (SCN). The Wang Lab employed modern genetic-based approaches to analyze the subpopulation of SCN neurons that 1) maintain the intrinsic circadian rhythm; 2) mediate the circadian clock phase-shift by receiving environmental inputs; 3) generate output signal to synchronize the peripheral clocks.
Structure and Function of Preoptic Area of Anterior Hypothalamus
Compared to other brain regions such as cortex or hippocampus, the anterior hypothalamus is less studied in neuroscience research, partially because it is deep and small, hence less accessible for electrical recording or pharmacological manipulation using conventional approaches. Furthermore, different types of neurons that control different physiology and behaviors, such as sleep, feeding, drinking, and body temperature control, are intermingled with each other in the same region, making it difficult to study specific type of neurons and their function. The Wang lab applied cutting-edge technology of single-cell RNA-seq to classify the neurons in anterior hypothalamus into different subpopulations, thus equipped with powerful tools to dissect the neural circuits that control those metabolism-related physiology and behaviors.