Alan D. Attie

Photo of Alan Attie
Jack Gorski Professor of Biochemistry
B.S., University of Wisconsin-Madison
Ph.D., University of California-San Diego
Phone: (608) 262-1372

Genetics of Diabetes, beta-cell biology, lipid metabolism

Our laboratory studies genetic and biochemical processes underlying metabolic diseases, especially obesity, diabetes, and hypercholesterolemia.

Electron micrograph of a pancreatic beta-cell
Electron micrograph of a pancreatic beta-cell showing the abundance of dense core vesicles containing insulin.

Fluorescence micrograph of a pancreatic islet
Fluorescence micrograph of a pancreatic islet showing insulin-containing beta-cells (red) and glucagon-containing alpha-cells (green).

The obesity and diabetes epidemics

The obesity epidemic is evoking a parallel epidemic in metabolic diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, fatty liver, neurological diseases, and kidney failure. Genetic factors contribute to these diseases and obesity acts as a stressor that elicits phenotypes that might otherwise be silent. Our laboratory uses mouse genetics to identify novel causal and responsive genes leading to metabolic diseases.


Diabetes results from an absolute or a relative insulin deficiency. Pancreatic β-cells sense blood glucose and respond by secreting insulin. Insulin lowers blood glucose by promoting its clearance from the circulation and by inhibiting gluconeogenesis. In type 2 diabetes, there is an increased requirement for insulin, caused by a dampened response to the hormone, coupled with a failure to meet this increased requirement. This bottleneck is strongly influenced by genes acting in β-cells. We study these genes to discover mechanisms by which β-cells sense glucose and trigger insulin secretion.


Genetic Pipeline. Our projects come from genes we identify in our screens using mouse genetics. We then study these genes in transgenic mice and in cell lines.

Gene causal networks and diabetes. By combining global gene expression profiling and genetics, we are able to construct causal networks linking specific genes with diabetes phenotypes. One of those genes is the transcription factor NFATc2. We are studying its regulation in relation to β-cell function and diabetes.

Genetics of metabolic flux.  There is tremendous variability in the response of individuals to different diets. Likewise, mouse strains vary in their response to diet. These responses are due to differences in the control of metabolic pathways. We are conducting a genetic screen using stable isotope tracers to measure metabolic flux through many pathways in mice subjected to two extreme diets. We will map the genetic drivers responsible for strain differences in diet responsiveness

grow magazine article, Spring 2015, about Attie's Diabetes research click here
Logo for the Alan Attie lab at the University of Wisconsin-Madison