Xiao-Bing Gao PhD

Associate Professor of Comparative Medicine and of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences

Research Interests

Neurotransmission; Neurotransmitter response and synaptic plasticity; Cellular physiology of neuropeptides (hypocretin/orexin, melanin concentrating hormone, neuropeptide Y, ghrelin, leptin, and a-MSH); Ion channels (Na+, Ca2+, K+ channels); Electrophysiology/patch clamp recording; calcium imaging; Hypothalamus/lateral hypothalamic area; Energy homeostasis/feeding regulation; Sleep homeostasis and regulation; Drug addiction

Current Projects

1. Crosstalk of Hypocretin and MCH in Feeding Regulation. This study investigates neuropeptides (hypocretin/orexin and MCH) and their receptors involved in regulatory pathways controlling feeding behavior. Supported by the NIH/NIDDK.

2. Hypocrelin/orexin Deficiency in Prader-Willi Syndrome Animal Models.
This study investigates the functional deficiency in hypocretin/orexin neurons in Prader-Willi Syndrome animal models. Supported by the Foundation for Prader-Willi Research.




Research Summary

The lateral hypothalamus (LH) plays a substantial role in a number of functions including sensorimotor integration, energy homeostasis, sleep-wake regulation, addiction, emotion and regulation of the autonomic nervous system. It has been shown that the LH is a central hub receiving physiological, behavioral and environmental inputs from and sending outputs to other brain structures to participate in homeostatic and behavioral functions. Our long-term goal is to understand how signaling at molecular, cellular and circuit levels leads to the emergence of instinctive behaviors critical for animal survival and how adaptive and maladaptive changes in the LH lead to diseases and conditions such as obesity, diabetes, sleep disorders, etc.

Extensive Research Description

The lateral hypothalamus (LH) plays a substantial role in a number of functions including sensorimotor integration, energy homeostasis, sleep-wake regulation, addiction, emotion and regulation of the autonomic nervous system. It has been shown that the LH is a central hub receiving physiological, behavioral and environmental inputs from and sending outputs to other brain structures to participate in homeostatic and behavioral functions.

Despite its critical role in the survival of individuals and species, it is largely unclear how the LH integrates information from internal and external environments to exert its actions. Moreover, it is also not clear how the neural circuitry centered on neurons in the LH make adaptive changes to accommodate physiological, behavioral and environmental changes. Our long-term goal is to understand the logic of how signaling at molecular, cellular and circuit levels leads to the emergence of instinctive behaviors critical for animal survival.

Specifically, the questions that we are pursuing include: 1) how neural circuitry in the LH participates in the regulation of homeostatic and behavioral functions of the brain; 2) how neural circuitry in the LH is modified by physiological, behavioral and environmental changes in mature animals; 3) how maternal and early postnatal experience leads to changes in the development of neural circuitry responsible for dysfunctions of the LH during adulthood.


Selected Publications

  • Liu, Z.W., Faraguna, U., Cirelli, C., Tononi, G., Gao, X.B. (2010) Direct evidence for wake-related increases and sleep-related decreases in synaptic strength in rodent cortex. J Neuroscience 30: 8671-8675.
  • Rao, Y., M. Lu, F. Ge, D.J. Marsh, S. Qian, A.H. Wang, M.R. Picciotto, X.-B. Gao. (2008) Regulation of synaptic efficacy in hypocretin/orexin containing neurons by melanin concentrating hormone in the lateral hypothalamus. Journal of Neuroscience 28: 9101-9110.
  • Rao, Y., Z.-W. Liu, E. Borok, R.L. Rabenstein, M. Shanabrough, M. Lu, M.R. Picciotto, T.L. Horvath, and X.-B. Gao. (2007) Prolonged wakefulness induces experience-dependent synaptic plasticity in hypocretin/orexin neurons. Journal of Clinical Investigation 117: 4022-4033.
  • Liu, Z.W. and X.-B. Gao. (2007) Adenosine inhibits activity of hypocretin/orexin neurons via A1 receptor in the lateral hypothalamus: a possible sleep-promoting effect. Journal of Neurophysiology 97: 837-848.
  • Horvath, T.L. and X.-B. Gao. (2005) Input organization and plasticity of hypocretin neurons: Possible clues to obesity’s association with insomnia. Cell metabolism 1: 279-286.
  • Gao, X.-B. and A.N. van den Pol. (2001) Melanin-Concentrating hormone depresses synaptic activity of glutamate and GABA neurons from rat lateral hypothalamus. Journal of Physiology (Lond.) 533: 237-252.

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