Nika Larian: My name is Nika Larian, and
I’m a first year PhD student in the department of pharmacology and nutritional sciences.
And, I joined the Superfund one year ago in the summer of 2015. I study the aryl hydrocarbon receptor, or
AHR, which is a ligand-activated transcription factor with roles in drug metabolism and detoxification.
Our lab has shown that exposure coplanar PCBs promotes the development of type 2 diabetes
and insulin resistance. However, if you knock out AHR in adipose tissue of mice, this PCB-induced
development of diabetes is prevented. Furthermore, these AHR knock-out mice possess a body weight
phenotype; they are heavier than controls when fed a high-fat diet, indicating a role
of AHR in the regulation of body weight. I’m investigating natural components of
the microbiome that are influenced by a high-fat diet, and may also be altered by exposure
to PCBs. The microbiome is influenced by what we eat, including the consumption of a high-fat
diet. So, at the cellular level, I can investigate all of these nutritional compounds that I’m
interested in. And, see if I can find any effects on the differentiation or inflammation
of adipocytes. And, if I find an effect, I can then take this to my animal model, introduce
it into a diet, challenge the mice with a high-fat diet, and see if I can alter the
development of obesity and diabetes. We hope to investigate any sex differences in
this response, as females possess greater adiposity. PCBs and other environmental contaminants
are lipophilic, meaning they accumulate in our adipose tissue. Therefore, upon weight
loss, these toxins are liberated from our fat and released into the bloodstream, where
they can promote the development of diabetes. So, these studies may help refine the recommendations
of what levels of these environmental contaminants are harmful for our health, as these levels
may be determined by our fat mass. Furthermore, these studies might provide nutritional interventions
for individuals exposed to environmental contaminants, as well as offer strategies for ameliorating
the effects we see when these toxins are liberated from adipose tissue upon weight loss.