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Center for Metabolism & Obesity Research

The Center for Metabolism and Obesity Research, or CMOR, in the Institute for Basic Biomedical Research is an interdepartmental and interdisciplinary center established to support the advancement of our understanding of the basic biological mechanisms that regulate metabolism, and how they are dysregulated in disorders such as obesity, diabetes, stroke, and cancer. While these may seem to be divergent themes, they share common root causes in disordered energy balance, which can affect many biological systems. Thus, while CMOR investigators approach these problems from within their individual disciplines, the Center provides an opportunity to explore common scientific themes and collaborate on research combining the molecular and cellular mechanisms of metabolism with a wide range of physiological and behavioral studies. CMOR also works to facilitate the translation of discoveries to applied knowledge for therapeutics in these fields.

Tissue analysis OR Trypanosomes

From Albert Lehninger’s studies of mitochondrial metabolism to Peter Pedersen’s work in bioenergetics and more, Johns Hopkins has built a distinguished legacy of discovery in the field of metabolism and systems biology. Addressing topics such as nutrient sensing, bioenergetics, and endocrine regulation, the center employs both cutting edge technologies and fundamental basic science to advance our understanding of the biology that regulates metabolism and how it is dysregulated in attendant disorders such as obesity, diabetes, cancer, and stroke.

Director: Michael Wolfgang, Ph.D.


To lead in the study and support of integrative research in the field of metabolism and obesity to advance our understanding of the biological mechanisms that regulate metabolism and how they are dysregulated in attendant disorders, such as obesity and diabetes.

Vision: Understanding how specific metabolic pathways influence biological outcomes and behavior is the goal of metabolism in our era, and is a common foundation for systems and behavioral biology. The overall goal of CMOR is to develop an infrastructure to facilitate cutting-edge research into the fundamental basic science of metabolism.


  • To provide an infrastructure for scientific interactions among faculty and community.
  • To integrate research using model organisms and metabolic profiling.
    • To develop service and technological resources.
    • To enhance the education of trainees.
    • To foster interactions between CMOR and agencies that support research in metabolism and obesity.
  • To disseminate knowledge to the public in the form of graduate education and to facilitate translation of this knowledge to therapeutic strategies.
    • Programmatic Themes:
      1. Nutrient regulation/sensing encompasses metabolic pathways that deal with the disposition of carbohydrates, glucose, and lipids, which influence how energy is used to support macromolecular synthesis.
      2. Bioenergetics entails the conversion of catabolized molecules into energy (ATP) and reducing equivalents (NADH), the availability of which dictates the biological anabolic processes that may occur.
      3. Endocrine regulation denotes the humoral and neuroendocrine responses that occur to maintain homeostasis, often in relationship to nutrient availability. For example, molecules such as insulin, leptin, and hypothalamic neuropeptides respond to peripheral and central metabolic cues to sense energy balance and affect behavior. At the cellular level, these metabolic systems influence cell survival, cell cycle regulation, the expression levels of diverse proteins required for cellular functions, and cellular senescence. At the organismal level, nutrients, endocrine profiles, and bioenergetics affect reproduction, exercise capacity, CNS activity, feeding behavior, and longevity.

Dysregulation of these pathways results in some of the most devastating diseases that we face, including obesity, diabetes, cancer and stroke. As we discover new regulatory roles for these metabolic pathways, we seek to apply this information towards therapeutic strategies, making the Center a timely undertaking. Most importantly, this theme provides flexibility, allowing the Center to adapt as needed in response to future needs.

Core Services in Animal Physiology

Centralized Services for Metabolism Research (CSMR) provides access to shared equipment for rodent metabolic testing, controlled settings (temperature, humidity, light, air flow, low general human activity) required for accurate assessments of whole-body metabolism and animal behavior and expertise of JHMI faculty who each have 15-30 years experience in rodent behavioral and metabolic testing and data analysis. CSMR offers six centralized services. Protocols in biochemistry and tissue culture assist all investigators and students in exploring the diverse biology that is metabolism.

The suite is managed by Susan Aja, Ph.D., who supervises studies conducted in the facility, provides expertise for in vivo approaches to metabolism and obesity research, and refers researchers to CSMR and other facilities/personnel with appropriate equipment/expertise for metabolic research.


Research Faculty

Additional Faculty

Susan Aja

Department of Psychiatry and Brain Sciences

Dr. Aja studies the role of the protein AMP-activated kinase (AMPK) as an energy gauge in the hypothalamus. AMPK potentially senses and integrates metabolic, neural, and hormonal signals of bodily energy status. Her lab aims to understand the involvement of AMPK in controlling food intake and energy expenditure to regulate adiposity and body weight. AMPK activity might be affected by hypothalamic neuronal fatty acid metabolism. Her team also is interested in understanding how AMPK activity adjusts hypothalamic neuropeptide outputs to control energy balance as well as physiological and behavioral outcomes.

CMOR location: Rangos #472
CMOR Phone: 410-287-7671

Michele Shermak

Department of Surgery

Michele Shermak, M.D., is the Chief of Plastic Surgery at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center and also a member of the Center for Bariatric Surgery. Clinically, she specializes in the latest techniques in aesthetic and breast surgery. Her research focuses on the basic science of soft tissue healing, bone healing, and tissue engineering, and she is also interested in the effects of weight loss on adipocyte physiology and metabolism.


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