Xin-Yun Lu, Ph.D.

Augusta University
Recruited: 2017

Psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety affect millions of people, many of whom do not respond well to current therapies. Xin-Yun Lu has discovered a target with great potential for new treatments — hormones produced by fat cells — and her research has helped define this area of investigation.

Two hormones in her sights are adiponectin and leptin. Both are found in fat cells, and though they function quite differently, Lu has identified clear connections between these hormones and psychiatric problems.

Adiponectin plays a role in metabolism, and low adiponectin levels are linked to obesity and related health issues such as Type 2 diabetes. Through chemical and behavior monitoring studies on mice, Lu and her team discovered that lower adiponectin also correlates with depression and PTSD. The finding could lead to a totally unique therapy that targets adiponectin as a dual treatment for both diabetes and depression, which are often comorbid — someone who suffers from one is more likely to also suffer from the other.

In another study, Lu’s lab linked low adiponectin with PTSD. In a study with mice, Lu and her team found that adiponectin-deficient mice had fear responses that lasted longer than those in normal mice after both experienced a negative environment. When researchers injected these mice with adiponectin, their fear dissipated.

While more investigation is needed, this fascinating discovery could point the way to a new viable drug treatment for PTSD, which affects up to 15 percent of military service members and 8 percent of the population as a whole.

Lu’s team has also been teasing out the role of leptin in both appetite and mood. One of her lab’s first big discoveries identified a link between low leptin levels and depression in mice. Mice who were exposed to chronic stress began to show depressive behaviors, becoming less social and less active. They also began to show lower levels of leptin. Even more significantly, giving the mice an injection of leptin in the hippocampus (a region of the brain) had direct antidepressant effects.

Other researchers have built on Lu’s findings and identified the same link in humans; depressed individuals show decreased leptin levels.

Lu helped found the Institute for Metabolic & Neuropsychiatric Disorders at Binzhou Medical College in China, where she earned a medical degree. Her work has received more than $3.6 million in research funding from the National Institutes of Health.


  • Adipose-derived hormones leptin and adiponectin
  • Real-time neurochemical monitoring and behavior monitoring in mice
  • Transgenic mouse models and viral vector-mediated gene transfer
  • Biological links between diabetes and depression
  • Interactions between the melanocortin system and leptin
  • Therapeutic targets for depression, anxiety and PTSD 

Straight from the Scholar

“Augusta University has research strengths in metabolic disease and disorders. I am looking forward to the opportunity for collaborations in Georgia and with other GRA Scholars.” 

Intellectual Property

2 patents pending