Joshua Thaler, MD, PhD


  • Associate Professor of Medicine, Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology and Nutrition

Complete list of published work.

Dr. Thaler graduated with a major in Biochemistry from Harvard College (Magna Cum Laude with Highest Honors, and on the Dean’s List), then obtained an MD and a PhD in Biomedical Sciences from the University of California, San Diego and the Salk Institute (where he was a Chapman Scholar and a Lucille P. Markey Fellow). He short-tracked through the Internal Medicine residency program at UW and was an endocrinology/metabolism fellow, working in Dr. Michael Schwartz’s laboratory. He is currently an Associate Professor at the UW Diabetes Institute.

Research Interests

Dr. Thaler’s focus is the hypothalamic regulation of energy homeostasis and the alterations to this system during obesity pathogenesis. His primary project investigates hypothalamic inflammation and its relationship to high fat diet-induced weight gain with an emphasis on the role of glial cells (astrocytes and microglia) in modulating the neuronal regulation of energy homeostasis. In particular, his research aims to determine whether glial cells provide a repair response to diet-induced damage to critical hypothalamic neurons and whether interventions targeted at glia may therefore influence the course of obesity. A second study examines the role of inflammatory signaling in hypothalamic neurons and microglia in obesity-associated insulin resistance and diabetes. Additionally, Dr. Thaler’s research is examining the metabolic role of POMC neurons through modification of atypical protein kinase C signaling.

How can this research help people with diabetes?

Obesity and diabetes had long been considered to be diseases of the peripheral body tissues but recent evidence suggests that the brain plays a critical role in the development of both of these conditions. Our recent work showed that neurons in a region of the brain that controls appetite and energy expenditure become stressed when animals eat a high-fat diet. To combat this potentially damaging process, the brain enlists special helper cells called glia to provide support to the neurons. We have been studying the potential to use these cells to develop therapies for obesity and diabetes. Our recent work shows that both types of glia (astrocytes and microglia) are intimately involved with the neurons that regulate body weight suggesting that altering their activity can provide new treatment options. Our current studies are focused on developing tools to manipulate these cells that will allow us to systematically address the function and utility of glia as metabolic therapy targets.