Sarah Leibowitz, Ph.D.Research Associate Professor
Dr. Leibowitz is interested in understanding the neurobiology of dietary behavior, including eating, alcohol consumption and preferences for the dietary macronutrients fat and sugar. To investigate the highly interactive relationship between diet, consequent changes in circulating nutrients and neurochemical systems in the brain, she and her colleagues systematically characterize essential neurochemicals and neurohormones as they function and interact under normal conditions. At the same time, they track disturbances in these mechanisms, caused by environmental or genetic factors, that may contribute to abnormal behavioral and metabolic responses and ultimately lead to obesity and diabetes. Dr. Leibowitz’s research includes studies in animals at different stages of development, including in utero, as well as in different genders. The goal of the Leibowitz laboratory is to use the knowledge gained from diet-brain interactions in animals to identify biomarkers of excess consummatory behavior in humans, both children and adults, and to develop therapies for treating eating disorders and addiction.
Studies from the Leibowitz lab in rats and mice have led to the discovery of two distinct classes of neuropeptides in the hypothalamus that control eating behavior and body weight regulation. These peptides are differentially responsive to dietary fat and carbohydrates, functioning within a positive feedback loop that promotes overeating of fat- and sugar-rich foods. They are also remarkably sensitive to changes in circulating nutrients — in particular, triglycerides and glucose — that control their gene expression.
A new series of investigations conducted by Dr. Leibowitz and her colleagues is examining the effects of alcohol on brain systems that, in turn, may contribute to excess drinking of alcohol. Further studies are investigating mechanisms and brain areas that may underlie food cravings and possibly contribute to eating disorders such as binge eating.
Dr. Leibowitz received her Ph.D. in psychobiology from New York University in 1968. Following postdoctoral research at the United States Public Health Service, she joined Rockefeller University as assistant professor in 1971, becoming research associate professor in 2007.