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April 23, 2019

MSU neuroscientist Gina Leinninger receives prestigious new investigator award

Gina Leinninger, Michigan State University assistant professor of physiology, is the 2019-20 recipient of the American Physiology Society’s, or APS, Central Nervous System Section New Investigator Award. 

The society’s New Investigator Award recognizes outstanding scientists in the early stages of their career who have made significant contributions and show great promise in their field of study. 

“No investigator is an island,” said Leinninger, who joined the department of physiology in the College of Natural Science in 2012. “It takes a team to do great science, and this award recognizes my team of talented students and technicians whose hard work, enthusiasm and insight are revealing new ways that the brain works to regulate behavior and body weight.”

Leinninger recently attended the 2019 Experimental Biology meeting in Orlando, Fla., April 6 to 9, where she presented her latest investigations of how neurons located in the lateral hypothalamic area, or LHA, of the brain coordinate eating, drinking, sleep and movement behaviors that affect weight.

Using state-of-the-art neuronal tract tracing and neuronal modulation techniques along with novel mouse-models, the Leinninger Lab tracks neurons in the LHA that contribute to energy balance and obesity, making them important neurons for tackling one of the United State’s most serious health epidemics— Type 2 diabetes. 

“We found that a specific group of neurons expressing the protein neurotensin can restrain feeding and promote movement to support weight loss,” Leinninger said. “By defining how these neurons work, we hope to identify strategies to treat obesity and linked Type 2 diabetes.”

Leinninger’s LHA-focused research has been supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health for the last seven years, and her excellence in teaching and mentoring graduate students has earned her two College of Natural Science awards: the Teaching Prize in 2018 and the Teacher Scholar Award in 2016.

“I was very excited to hear the wonderful news that Gina received the New Investigator Award from the APS,” said Lee Cox, chair of the department of physiology in the College of Natural Science. “This national recognition of her scientific accomplishments indicates the importance of her research program and reflects well on our department and university.” 

Prior to joining the faculty at MSU, Leinninger was a Research Investigator for the department of internal medicine at the University of Michigan from 2010 to 2012 where she also conducted postdoctoral research from 2005 to 2010. She received her doctorate in neuroscience from the University of Michigan. 

“The New Investigator Award is a vote of confidence from my respected neuroscience peers,” Leinninger said. “It indicates that my lab is making meaningful advances toward understanding the complexities of the brain.”

Founded in 1887, the APS has over 10,500 members devoted to fostering education, scientific research and dissemination of information in the physiological sciences.

By: Val Osowski