Alan Watts

Professor of Biological Sciences, Physiology and Biophysics
Alan Watts
Email Office HNB 416 Office Phone (213) 740-1497


  • Ph.D. Neuroendocrinology, Oxford University, 1983
  • B.S. Applied Biology, University of Wales, UK, 1977
  • Summary Statement of Research Interests

    Our work is directed towards understanding how the brain contributes to the development, manifestation, and complications of diabetes and obesity. We do this in two projects that focus on the neural control of energy metabolism.

    The first project investigates how peripheral metabolism interacts with the brain to generate adrenocortical and sympathoadrenal hormonal responses. In particular, we are interested in the way that two critical metabolic signals—glucocorticoid hormones and hypoglycemia—are sensed by the brain, and then generate appropriate counter-regulatory responses. We are interested in how glucocorticoids and neurotransmitters interact with neurons in the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus, which is a major integrative cell group for metabolic control. A major focus is on sets of hindbrain catecholaminergic neurons that project to the forebrain. These neurons are crucial for detecting and encoding information about blood glucose levels. We investigate the way that catecholaminergic neurons and glucocorticoids affect signal transduction and gene regulatory mechanisms in sets of forebrain neurons.

    The second project investigates the neural basis of anorexia using dehydration as a physiological challenge. The goal here is to understand the structure and functional interactions between the neural systems that inhibit and stimulate feeding, particularly between the cortex, hypothalamus, and hindbrain.

    The techniques we use include: whole animal physiology, in situ hybridization, immunocytochemistry (with confocal and conventional immunofluorescence), tract-tracing, behavioral analysis, and neuroinfomatics.

  • Book Chapters

    • Watts, A. G. (2011). Neuroendocrine Regulation of Food Intake. The Handbook of Neuroendocrinology pp. 331-354. San Diego, CA: Academic Press.
    • Schneider, J. E., Watts, A. G. (2009). Energy Partitioning, Ingestive Behavior and Reproductive Success. In “Hormones, Brain, and Behavior, Vol 1.”. 2nd Edtn (Vol. 1) pp. 205-258. San Diego: Academic Press.
    • Watts, A., Salter, D. S. (2004). Neural Mechanisms of Anorexia. 2 ‘The Handbook of Behavioral Neurobiology. Food and Fluid Intake’/Plenum Press..

    Journal Article

    • Khan, A. M., Kaminski, K. L., Sanchez-Watts, G., Ponzio, T. A., Kuzmiski, J. B., Bains, J. S., Watts, A. G. (2011). MAP kinases couple hindbrain-derived catecholamine signals to hypothalamic adrenocortical control mechanisms during glycemia-related challenges. J. Neuroscience. Vol. 31, pp. 18479-18491.
    • Lui, Y., Poon, V., Sanchez-Watts, G., Watts, A. G., Takemori, H., Aguilera, G. (2011). Salt-inducible kinase is involved in the regulation of corticotropin-releasing hormone transcription in hypothalamic neurons in rats. Endocrinology.. Vol. 153 (1), pp. 223-233.
    • Watts, A. G., Sanchez-Watts, G., Liu, Y., Aguilera, G. (2011). The distribution of messenger RNAs encoding the three isoforms of the Transducer Of Regulated CREB Activity (TORC) in the rat forebrain. J. Neuroendocrinology. Vol. 23, pp. 754-766.
    • Boyle, C. N., Lorenzen, S. M., Compton, D., Watts, A. G. (2011). Dehydration-anorexia derives from a reduction in meal size, but not meal number. Physiology & Behavior. Vol. 105, pp. 305-314.
    • Watts, A. G. (2010). Structure and function in the conceptual development of mammalian neuroendocrinology between 1920 and 1965. Brain Research Reviews. Vol. 65 (2), pp. 174-204.
    • Watts, A. G., Boyle, C. N. (2010). The functional architecture of dehydration-anorexia. Physiology & Behavior. Vol. 100, pp. 422-427.
    • Watts, A. G., Donovan, C. D. (2010). Sweet Talk In The Brain: Glucosensing, Neural Networks, and Hypoglycemic Counterregulation. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology.
    • Salter-Venzon, D., Watts, A. G. (2009). Site-specific attenuation of feeding response after hypothalamic injections of neuropeptide Y in anorexia. Am. J. Physiol. Reg, and Comp Physiol.. Vol. 297 (6), pp. R1813-1821.
    • Salter-Venzon, D., Watts, A. G. (2008). The role of hypothalamic ingestive behavior controllers in generating dehydration anorexia: a FOS mapping study. Am. J. Physiol. Reg, and Comp Physiol.. Vol. 295, pp. R1009-1019.
    • Watts, A., Sanchez-Watts, G. (2007). Rapid and preferential activation of Fos protein in hypocretin/orexin neurons following the reversal of dehydration-anorexia. J. Comp.Neurol.. Vol. 502, pp. 768-782.
    • Watts, A., Salter, D. S., Neuner, C. M. (2007). Neural network interactions and ingestive behavior control during anorexia. Pysiology & Behavior. Vol. 91, pp. 389-396.
    • Khan, A. M., Ponzio, T. A., Sanchez-Watts, G., Stanley, B. G., Hatton, G. I., Watts, A. (2007). Catecholaminergic control of MAP kinase signaling in paraventricular neuroendocrine neurons in vivo and in vitro: A proposed role during glycemic challenges. J.Neuroscience. Vol. 27, pp. 7344-7360.
    • Gorton, L. M., Khan, A. M., Bohland, M. A., Sanchez-Watts, G., Donovan, C. M., Watts, A. (2007). A role for the forebrain in mediating time-of-day differences in glucocorticoid counterregulatory responses to hypoglycemia. Endocrinology.. Vol. 148, pp. 6026-6039.
    • Watts, A., Sanchez-Watts, G., Salter, G., Neuner, C. M. (2006). Activation in neural networks controlling ingestive behaviors: what does it mean and how do we map and measure it?. Physiology & Behavior. Vol. 89, pp. 501-520.
    • Swanson, L. W., Sanchez-Watts, G., Watts, A. (2005). Comparison of melanin-concentrating hormone and hypocretin/orexin mRNA expression patterns in a new parcelating scheme of the lateral hypothalamic zone. Neuroscience Letters. Vol. 387, pp. 80-84.
    • Watts, A. (2005). Glucocorticoid regulation of peptide genes in neuroendocrine CRH neurons: a complexity beyond negative feedback. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology. Vol. 26, pp. 109-130.
    • Khan, A. M., Watts, A. (2004). Intravenous 2-deoxy-D-glucose Injection Rapidly Elevates Levels of the Phosphorylated Forms of p44/42 Mitogen Activated Protein Kinases (Erk 1/2) in Rat Hypothalamic Parvocellular Paraventricular Neurons. Endocrinology.. Vol. 145, pp. 351-359.
    • Watts, A., Tanimura, S. M., Sanchez-Watts, G. (2004). Crh and Avp gene transcription in the hypothalamic paraventricular nucleus of unstressed rats: daily rhythms and their corticosterone dependence. Endocrinology.. Vol. 145, pp. 529-540.
    • American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow, Fellow, 2012
    • Morton Jones Memorial Medal, International Congress of Neuroendocrinology, 2002
    • NIH/NSF Career Development Award, , 1996-2000
  • Administrative Appointments

    • Director, Neuroscience Research Institute, 08/16/2006-08/15/2007
    • Chair, USC Neuroscience Executive Committee, 07/01/2006-08/15/2007
    • Head, Neurobiology Section, Dept. of Biological Sciences, 2003-2006
    • Director, NIBS Neuroscience Program, 12/01/2004-08/16/2006
  • Editorships and Editorial Boards

    • Senior Editor, Journal of Neuroendocrinology”, 2012 –
    • Editorial board member, J. Neuroendocrinology”, 2003 – 2012
    • Associate Editor, Obesity”, 2007 – 2011
    • Editorial board member, Endocrinology”, 2005 – 2009
    • Editorial board member, Am. J. Physiol (Reg & Comp. Physiol.)”, 2007 – 2008