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Steven Zeisel to give Hans L. Falk Memorial Lecture

By Angelika Zaremba
October 2010

Steven Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D.
Zeisel has been honored many times for his work on human nutrition research, and his discoveries are helping scientists understand individual nutrient needs and reduce the risk of disease. (Photo courtesy of UNC-CH)

Steven Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D., will present the annual Hans L. Falk Memorial Lecture Oct. 4 at the NIEHS Rodbell Auditorium in Research Triangle Park, N.C. NIEHS/NTP Director Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., will host his presentation, "Nutrigenomics, estrogen, and environmental chemicals influence the dietary requirement for choline."

Zeisel( Exit NIEHS is the Kenan Distinguished University Professor in the Department of Nutrition and Pediatrics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) Gillings School of Global Public Health and UNC School of Medicine, as well as director of the UNC Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) in Kannapolis, N.C. He serves as the principal investigator on multiple federally funded research projects that focus on human nutrition research and specifically on human requirements for choline.

Using new approaches in nutrigenomics and metabolomics in studies of humans, mice, and cells, Zeisel's group is working to identify the mechanisms underlying individual nutritional variations and needs. Zeisel is credited with discovering the role of choline as a dietary methyl donor and essential nutrient, and he has studied its need by women during pregnancy. His team showed that choline influences epigenetic modulation during fetal development. As an essential nutrient, it is also needed for healthy muscle and liver function.

Choline can be derived from the diet and is found in different concentrations in a variety of foods, but it can also be synthesized endogenously. Using choline as a model to study individual differences in nutritional requirements, the group identified an estrogen-dependent induction of choline synthesis.

Zeisel's group discovered that half of the young women they studied have common genetic variants that make them unable to synthesize enough choline endogenously to meet their requirements. Older women and men need a choline-rich diet to prevent liver and muscle damage.

Held each year in honor of the Institute's first scientific director, Hans Falk, Ph.D., the memorial lecture series features distinguished guest speakers who have made significant contributions to environmental health science research. Falk was one of the founding members at NIEHS and is recognized internationally as a pioneer in the environmental health sciences.

(Angelika Zaremba, Ph.D., is a visiting postdoctoral fellow in the NIEHS Laboratory of Signal Transduction Inositol Signaling Group.)

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