Claudio J. Villanueva, Ph. D.

Department of Integrative Biology & Physiology

LOCATION:  Los Angeles, CA

TITLE:  Associate Professor

PhD:  UCSF, Robert Farese Jr.

POSTDOC:  UCLA, Peter Tontonoz

RESEARCH:  Lipid metabolism, adipocyte development, transcription, and physiology.


Phone: (310) 825-4369


Twitter: @ClaudioVillanu

About Me

I’ve dedicated my life to understanding the physiological regulation of lipid metabolism in cell and organ systems. Let me take you on a quick tour of my scientific journey:

Undergraduate Training at Chaffey College and Cal State San Bernardino
As an undergraduate, I was deeply intrigued with how multicellular organisms sense and adapt to their environment. This interest led me to the lab of Colleen Talbot PhD, who kindled my interest in physiology during these formative years, where I decided to dedicate my career to research. Support for my academic journey was fostered by the McNair Scholars Program, which provides mentoring support for minority students interested in doctoral programs.

Ph.D. in Biomedical Sciences from University of California, San Francisco
Venturing to UCSF, I had the privilege of working with Robert Farese Jr. who was at the Gladstone Institute of Cardiovascular Disease at the time. There I studied the relationship between DGAT enzymes and fatty liver disease. The objective was to understand the underlying mechanisms of why mice without the DGAT1 enzyme seemed resistant to fatty liver, a precursor for grave conditions like non-alcoholic steatohepatitis and liver cirrhosis. Here, I honed my expertise in mouse genetics, lipid biochemistry, and the realm of diabetes research.

Post-doctoral Training at UCLA
With an interest to understand how cells acquire their metabolic programs, I joined the lab of Peter Tontonoz at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. Wanting to delve deeper, I shifted my focus from studying lipid biosynthesis enzymes to unraveling their transcriptional regulation. It was here that I discovered a novel transcriptional co-regulator, Transducin Like Enhancer of Split 3(TLE3) in promoting adipogenesis by coactivating the transcription factor PPARgamma.

Assistant Professor, University of Utah, School of Medicine, Department of Biochemistry

Our early discoveries that loss of TLE3 promotes adipocytes to adopt a thermogenic fate, laid the groundwork to understand the role beige or brite adipocytes in promoting metabolic health. Using mechanistic approaches and after developing new mouse models, we delved deeper into the metabolic regulation thermogenesis.

 Associate Professor, University of California, Los Angeles, Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology

After returning to UCLA to join the Department of Integrative Biology and Physiology in the College of Life Sciences, I continued my goal to understand how cells and organisms adapt to stressors like cold and dietary excess. Our lab is investigating how organ systems communicate to regulate lipid metabolism and the nutrient control of adipose stem cells.

  • Leadership Positions at UCLA 
    • Co-Director of IRACDA@UCLA Program: Pioneering postdoctoral training to support research and educational innovation.
    • Director of Research Support Core for UCLA LIFT-UP Network: Championing the cause of underrepresented physicians and scientists.
    • MBI Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Faculty Advisor: Steering the Molecular Biology Institute’s initiatives for a more inclusive future.
    • Advisory Board for the Deuel Conference
    • Standing Member, Reviewer for the Division of Training, Workforce Development, and Diversity (TWD) at the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, NIH
    • Reviewer HHMI Freeman Hrabowski Scholars Program, Chevy Chase, MD, USA.
    • Member faculty search committee, “Rising to the Challenge Initiative”, Integrative Biology and Physiology at UCLA
    • Co-Chair faculty search committee, HSI Initiative, Integrative Biology and Physiology at UCLA


Future Endeavors
As I look ahead, I’m excited about the discoveries on the horizon, especially in understanding how cells adapt their metabolic programs to drive energy expenditure. Join me on this journey! 

Interview about fat biology on Scope Radio.