Name: Cayla Duffy
Hometown: Ham Lake, Minn.
Degree Pursuing: Nutrition Ph.D.
Adviser: Tammy Butterick
Research Title: Role of orexin-A signaling in dietary palmitic acid activated microglial cells
My research focuses on how diets high in saturated fats contribute to the onset of obesity through activation of brain immune cells (microglia). The saturated fatty acid palmitic acid causes microglia to release pro-inflammatory cytokines. When microglial cells are treated with the hypothalamic peptide, orexin-A (OXA) inflammation is prevented.
How did you become interested in nutrition?
I have a longstanding fascination with how the body integrates daily interactions with the environment and how these responses may be interrupted at the cellular level. As a competitive athlete, I was aware that dietary intake highly influences performance, however I wanted to know this occurs mechanistically. Since joining the Minnesota Obesity Neuroscience Laboratory group, I have been able to apply my interests in how environmental inputs, such as diet, influence the brain. Nutritional neuroscience is an exciting and growing field due to the abundance of evidence linking dietary intake and brain function.
Why did you choose the University of Minnesota?
As an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota, I started an Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program (UROP) project to determine the role of OXA induced neuroprotection in response to the saturated fatty acid palmitic acid. During this time, I noticed an interesting observation that microglia also respond to palmitic acid. I had the opportunity to continue pursuing my passion as a graduate student under the direction of Drs. Tammy Butterick and Joshua Nixon at the University of Minnesota and the Minneapolis VA Health Care System, to determine the underlying mechanisms in which fatty acids and OXA influence the brain.
How does your research tie in to the research being done in your adviser's lab?
Our lab is interested in identifying regulatory mechanisms in the brain that influence neuroinflammatory response in the context of obesity and obesity resistance. Specifically, we are elucidating the role of OXA induced neuroprotection and the underlying cellular mechanisms in which this occurs. My work has explored the role of OXA in altering microglial phenotypes in response to dietary palmitic acid.
My long-term career goals include establishing myself as an independent obesity researcher and continue investigating the role of microglia in brain health.