Kathleen Markan, PhD

Contact Information

Office: 3459 PBDB
Phone: 319-335-7711
Faculty Profile 

Brief description of current research:

My research is focused on adipocyte metabolism and adipose tissue biology and development. Currently, three types of adipocytes have been described: white, brown and beige. White adipocytes store and mobilize energy in response to nutritional cues while brown adipocytes are able to take up and dissipate excess energy as heat. Beige adipocytes are found interspersed amongst white adipocytes but behave metabolically like brown adipocytes. While the excessive accumulation of dysfunctional white adipocytes contributes to the development of obesity and insulin resistance, brown and beige adipocytes have been recognized as attractive therapeutic targets due to their ability to take up and burn off circulating glucose and lipids. Yet, much remains unknown regarding the molecular mechanisms governing the metabolism and development of each adipocyte type. At the physiological level, my work focuses on understanding how adipocytes interact with other tissues to detect changes in energy status and maintain insulin sensitivity. At the molecular level, my work centers on understanding the transcriptional and sensing mechanisms underlying the metabolism and development of each adipocyte type. To this end, my work has utilized novel in vivo and in vitro models, advanced physiological techniques and metabolic tracer studies. Upon this foundation an overarching goal of my work is to understand the transcriptional mechanisms governing the development of beige adipocytes in particular, so that fat cells could be engineered into energy burning cells used for the treatment and prevention of obesity.

3 most influential diabetes/obesity/metabolism publications:

  • Markan KR, Naber MC, Ameka MK, Anderegg MD, Mangelsdorf DJ, Kliewer SA, Mohammadi M, Potthoff MJ.: Circulating FGF21 is Liver Derived and Enhances Glucose Uptake During Refeeding and Overfeeding. Diabetes 63(12):4057-63, 2014. PMCID: PMC4238010.
  • Markan KR, Naber MC, Small SM, Peltekian L, Kessler RL, Potthoff MJ. FGF21 resistance is not mediated by downregulation of beta-klotho expression in white adipose tissue. Molecular Metabolism 27:6(6): 602-610. PMCID: PMC5444074.
  • Markan KR, Jurczak MJ, Allison MB, Ye H, Sutanto MM, Cohen, RN, Brady MJ.: Enhanced glycogen metabolism in adipose tissue decreases triglyceride mobilization. American Journal of Physiology Endocrinology and Metabolism 299:E117-E125, 2010. PMCID: PMC2904045.


“Thinking creatively and critically is one of the best aspects of being a metabolic scientist. We have much to discover and unending ways of examining what we think we understand from new and different perspectives.”