MAKING AN IMPACT

From Farm to Pennington Biomedical
Faculty Feature: Get to Know Dr. Christopher Morrison

Released: Thursday, April 19, 2018

Once a tiger, always a tiger. That much is true for Dr. Christopher Morrison, who grew up on LSU agriculture research farms, first in Clinton and then Rosepine, Louisiana.

Since childhood, Morrison sought scientific knowledge.

"Science was always my favorite class," he said. "I always enjoyed understanding how things work. Human physiology is fascinating."

He carried that fascination with him through college and earned a PhD in animal science from the University of Missouri - Columbia in 2001.

During his doctoral studies, Morrison studied the intersection between proper nutrition and reproductive outcomes in livestock, a project that stemmed from his father's work in agricultural reproduction.

Morrison shifted his focus after graduation and began to study homeostasis related to nutrition and body weight regulation. Homeostasis is how our bodies keep all of our functions in check, like sweating to stay cool or using insulin to keep blood sugar levels normal. Homeostatic signals also help to regulate our food intake and body weight.

Known for cutting-edge nutrition research, Pennington Biomedical was the perfect place for Morrison to get his professional start. Plus, he was able to return to his home state.

Did You Know?
Dr. Morrison isn't just a scientist! He also recently became a scuba diver!!

Morrison has a general research interest in whole-animal physiology, meaning he seeks to understand the animal as an entire being and explore how all of an animal's systems work together, rather than study individual systems.

"My overarching interest is to understand how your brain listens to your body," Morrison said. "The 'science-y' word for that is interoception."

Interoception is how you know if you're hungry or full, and thirsty or quenched, among other cues. Those cues are just like exteroceptive cues, which are sight, sound, smell, taste and touch - the traditional five senses.

"Just like our brain monitors what's going on around us in the environment, our brain also monitors what's going on inside of our bodies," Morrison said. "The brain responds to those signals unconsciously and 24/7, making sure everything stays balanced."

When Morrison arrived at Pennington Biomedical, the body weight homeostasis field was saturated, so he decided to further investigate how nutrient restriction affects our bodies. Instead of studying overall calorie restriction, he focused on protein restriction.

Specifically, Morrison works with a hormone called FGF21. Hormones are substances our bodies make to regulate bodily activities. Morrison's lab, the Neurosignaling Lab, has done a series of studies which show that FGF21 is increased when mice are protein restricted, and that the ability to 'sense' protein restriction depends on FGF21 acting in the brain.

Right now, the lab is continuing that research and trying to understand how increases in FGF21 during protein restriction influence metabolism and feeding behavior. For example, depriving a mouse of protein causes a change in nutrient preference, with the mouse now strongly preferring protein. In other words, the mouse 'knows' that it needs to eat more protein. Morrison's lab is trying to determine if this response requires FGF21, and if so how and where FGF21 acts to create this protein preference.

The mouse research could one day translate to humans, Morrison said, which could be a breakthrough in nutrition patterns for athletes, soldiers and other extremely physically active people.

Even after 15 years of work at Pennington Biomedical, Morrison is still enthusiastic about the potential impact of his research.

"The best thing about working at Pennington Biomedical is the flexibility and intellectual stimulation we get here," Morrison said. "As a scientist, it's important to have creative freedom, and Pennington Biomedical always keeps the doors open for more discovery."




For more information on how you can support this and other projects at LSU’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center, visit www.pbrf.org.