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Kevin J. Pearson, PhD


591 C.T. Wethington Bldg, 900 S Limestone St, Lexington, KY 40536-0200


  • Professor
  • Assistant Dean for Inclusive Research Initiatives
  • Graduate Faculty in Nutritional Sciences
  • Cardiovascular Research Center
  • Graduate Faculty in Toxicology

College Unit(s)

Other Affiliation(s)
  • CVRC - Affiliated Faculty
  • Markey Cancer Center - Affiliated Faculty
  • Nutritional Sciences Graduate Faculty
  • Pharmacology and Nutritional Sciences Primary Faculty
  • Diversity Departmental Ambassadors

Biography and Education


• B.S., Biology, University of Pittsburgh, Johnstown, PA 

• Ph.D., Pathobiology & Molecular Med., University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH 

• IRTA Postdoctoral Fellow, Laboratory of Experimental Gerontology; National Institute on Aging, NIH, Baltimore, MD, USA



Education with regards to diet and exercise as lifestyle modifications to prevent and treat obesity and diabetes is standard of care by health professionals. Unfortunately, most people lack the motivation or discipline to make healthy dietary choices for the duration of their lifespan. Many rely on the pharmaceutical industry for a seemingly easy fix and are unwilling to make lifestyle changes. However, this could change in targeted populations including women considering pregnancy and women who are already pregnant. Although the association of obesity with increased risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes during adulthood is well known, it is often under-appreciated that the risks of maternal obesity or nutritional status can be imposed on the next generation. Fetal programming is likely playing a role in the alarming increase in childhood obesity and will result in increased diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and early death during adulthood. However, the majority of research in this field has focused on negative outcomes associated with unhealthy or stressful pregnancies. Instead we hope to provide evidence that the reverse can also be true. Our studies hope to provide new information on the positive impact that maternal exercise or other interventions can have on offspring health. Such an intervention provides a realistic mechanism to improve insulin sensitivity in the next generation and positively impact insulin-resistant states that are associated with a plethora of age-related diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease. If translatable to humans, healthcare costs would be significantly reduced by a short-term intervention like maternal exercise positively influencing long-term health in offspring. Education and public health campaigns were successful for the majority of women when the scientific community provided data that cigarettes, alcohol, and drug use during pregnancy negatively impact the developing fetus, and we predict that women will exercise or try other safe interventions for the short-term duration of pregnancy if it translates into long-term beneficial effects for their children. Lab Projects My lab’s research interests are in the area of fetal or developmental (metabolic) programming or how maternal diet and behavior (such as exercise) can influence offspring obesity, diabetes, insulin resistance, and cancer. The work that we hope to accomplish over the next several years is summarized below. 

PROJECT A: Maternal Exercise Protects Offspring from Obesity and Insulin Resistance The benefits of exercise have been studied extensively, but the effects of maternal exercise during pregnancy on long-term outcomes in the offspring have been neglected. Emerging research has shown that subtle factors during pregnancy and gestation can influence long-term health in offspring. To date, most studies have focused on negative changes in the offspring caused by detrimental diets or behaviors during pregnancy. In this project, we adopt a pro-active approach in which we explore maternal exercise as a realistic, non-pharmacological intervention during pregnancy that we hope can improve offspring health. Our hypothesis is that maternal voluntary exercise during pregnancy and nursing will enhance insulin sensitivity and decrease obesity in offspring. These studies will provide important information on the potential positive impact maternal exercise can have on offspring glucose homeostasis. Obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease are at epidemic levels and interventions targeting gestation might be an efficient way to stem the tide. 

PROJECT B: Maternal Exercise Enhances Cancer Protection in Offspring To date, caloric restriction has shown itself to be the most reproducible and promising intervention to improve cancer outcomes in laboratory animals. An intense and expanding area of research is focused on discovering easily achievable interventions that can have long-lasting positive effects. This project will explore maternal exercise during pregnancy as a potential short-term intervention that can provide a lifetime of benefits for the next generation. The hypothesis that will be tested is that maternal exercise during pregnancy and nursing protects mature offspring against chemical carcinogens because of increased activities of antioxidant enzymes. The first goal is designed to test whether maternal exercise during pregnancy is a realistic intervention that can protect mature offspring from chemical carcinogens. The second goal is to look to elucidate the role of the stress-induced transcription factor, nuclear factor erythroid-2 related factor 2, as a potential mechanism for long-lasting protection by perinatal exercise. These studies will provide important information on the potential positive impact maternal exercise may have on offspring cancer protection. 

PROJECT C: Postnatal Complications of Polychlorinated Biphenyl Exposure during Pregnancy Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), one of a number of chlorinated organic pollutants, are highly lipid-soluble toxins that are characterized by relative chemical stability and prevalence in the environment. These traits are responsible for their widely recognized role as a source of serious environmental public health risks. PCBs have been shown to cross the placenta and enter breast milk, and a recent paper suggests that prenatal organochlorine levels contribute to gender-specific obesity development in children. In a mouse model, additional observations revealed that offspring exposed perinatally to PCB126, a coplanar PCB that acts through the aryl hydrocarbon receptor, had significantly worse fat and lean mass profiles compared to offspring born to vehicle-treated dams. Further, mature offspring born to PCB-exposed dams had impaired glucose tolerance compared to offspring from vehicle-treated dams. We have shown that short-term maternal voluntary exercise prior to and during healthy pregnancy and nursing can enhance long-term glucose homeostasis in offspring. The goal of this project is to elucidate the potential long-term health complications and mechanisms of PCB toxicity during the critical periods of in utero and early postnatal life and to explore maternal exercise as a transgenerational intervention.

Selected Publications

First Paper Ever 

Min, L., Maiorano, N., Shen, L., Pearson, K., Zhang, D.M., Woods, S.C., Seeley, R.J., Davidson, W.S., and Tso, P. Expression of biologically active rat apolipoprotein A-IV in Escherichia Coli. (2003), Physiology and Behavior, 78: 149-55. 

First First Author Paper Ever 

Pearson, K., Saito, H., Woods, S.C., Lund-Katz, S., Tso, P., Phillips, M.C., and Davidson, W.S. The structure of human apolipoprotein A-IV: distinct domain architecture with potential functional implications. (2004) Biochemistry, 43: 10719-29. 

First Senior or Corresponding Author Paper 

Shertzer, H.G., Woods, S.E., Krishan, M., Genter, M.B., and Pearson, K.J. Dietary whey protein lowers the risk for metabolic disease in mice fed a high-fat diet. (2011) Journal of Nutrition, 141(4):582-7. PMCID: PMC3056576 

Most Cited Paper 

Baur, J.A.*, Pearson, K.J.*, Price, N.L., Jamieson, H.A., Lerin, C., Kalra, A., Prabhu, V.V., Allard, J.S., Lopez-Lluch, G., Lewis, K., Pistell, P.J., Poosala, S., Becker, K.G., Boss, O., Gwinn, D., Wang, M., Ramaswamy, S., Fishbein, K.W., Spencer, R.G., Lakatta, E.G., LeCouteur, D., Shaw, R.J., Navas, P., Puigserver, P., Ingram, D.K., de Cabo, R., and Sinclair, D.A. Resveratrol improves health and survival of mice on a high-calorie diet. (2006) Nature, 444 (7117): 337-42. *Authors contributed equally. 

Prize winning paper

Aging Cell Best Paper Prize 2011 Minor, R.K., López, M., Younts, C.M., Jones, B., Pearson, K.J., Anson, R.M., Diéguez, C., and de Cabo, R. The arcuate nucleus and NPY contribute to the antitumorigenic effect of calorie restriction. (2011) Aging Cell. 10(3):483-92. PMCID: PMC3094497

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