Shane Hentges

Shane Hentges

Professor; Department Chair

Dr. Hentges' Publications


Current Position

Incoming Professor and Chair

Research and Teaching

Research in the Hentges lab aims to improve physical and emotional health. While this is an audacious goal, we believe we can make strides by adding insight into why food intake is sometimes inconsistent with caloric need and learning about the neuronal changes that happen in response to altered food intake and prolonged drug exposure. Rewarding food and drugs are initially consumed for pleasure and relief from discomfort. However, reinforcement is often fleeting and met with physiologic adaptions that lead to things like obesity and substance use disorder.

Current studies in this lab are primarily focused on the proopiomelanocortin neurons in the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus and their connections. These neurons play a critical role in maintaining energy balance through the release of the peptide alpha-MSH and affect aspects of reward through the release of the endogenous opioid beta-endorphin. These neurons also release classical neurotransmitters and endogenous cannabinoids (cell-derived lipids that act at the same receptors as the active compound in marijuana). We are currently working to determine what the release of these transmitters means in terms of food intake, reward and the regulation of downstream neurons.

Proopiomelanocortin neurons express opioid and cannabinoid receptors and receive synaptic input from other neurons that also express these receptors. This provides a great system for us to study the release of endocannabinoids, retrograde inhibition, and both presynaptic and postsynaptic actions at the mu opioid receptor. Thus, we can learn about synaptic regulation, G-protein coupled receptor signaling and cellular physiology while working towards a better understanding of the circuits that regulate food intake and reward. The primary methods used in the lab are patch clamp electrophysiology in brain slices, retrograde labeling by stereotaxic microinjection, opto- and chemogenetics, immunofluorescence and confocal imaging. Transgenic and knock-out mice are used routinely for our studies.

As a teacher and mentor, I like to challenge students to synthesize information in a way that allows them to apply knowledge to complex situations and answer questions of the “what would happen if…” nature. The days of needing a lot of rote information memorized are behind us (you will readily find didactic information online in moments), rather, we need to teach scholars to critically evaluate and apply that didactic information to solve real problems. I have taught and coordinated a range of classes from small, focused graduate courses in systems and circuit neurobiology to a large (100+ student) undergraduate course in cellular neurobiology. I like to incorporate case reports and ethical considerations throughout the courses and hope to spark a passion for, and solid understanding of, neuroscience in my students.