NRI Researcher Links Choline Deficiency to Impaired Brain Structure

Natalia Surzenko, Ph.D., is part of a team of researchers at the UNC-Chapel Hill Nutrition Research Institute (NRI) located on the North Carolina Research Campus (NCRC) in Kannapolis focusing their efforts on brain development. Her current goal is to determine the role of choline as an essential nutrient for development of the cerebral cortex.
The NRI’s director, Steven Zeisel, M.D., Ph.D., was among the first scientists to discover that choline is an essential nutrient that is especially needed by pregnant women to ensure proper fetal development. Surzenko is building on his legacy by looking for specific structural changes in the brain caused by a low-choline diet. In a recent study published in the FASEB Journal, Surzenko and her colleagues observed and measured in a mouse model the impact of a low-choline diet on neural progenitor cells through stimulation of a protein called epidermal growth factor receptor (EGFR).
[read more about Dr. Surzenko’s work on choline and brain development.]


Participate in Research Studies

NRI nutrition research starts in the laboratory then, sometimes, moves into clinical trials. These studies rely on people who volunteer to be part of scientific discovery to find new ways to detect, treat or even prevent disease. At the NRI, research focuses on the intersection of nutrition and genetics and, therefore, each clinical study has different requirements. So check the opportunities below to see if you are eligible.

  • Fructose Study: High uric acid in the blood increases the risk of gout, kidney and heart disease. This study investigates whether each individual responds to sugar-sweetened beverages differently, due to their differing ethnicities and genetic backgrounds. [Learn more]
  • Fatty Liver Study: To evaluate a new painless/non-invasive technique to study fatty liver disease. [Learn more]
  • Maternal Child and Health Study: Seeks to determine the effect of pregnancy complications in African American mothers on disease risk of their children. [Learn more]

When you participate in a clinical trial you provide opportunity to researchers and hope to so many people worldwide.


Home Grown Tomatoes on Toast

Designed by: Chef Mark Allison, Director of Culinary Nutrition, Dole Food Company.Original recipe featured on

  • 4 thick-cut slices of freshly made whole wheat bread
  • 1/4 cup Greek yogurt or homemade hummus
  • 1 teaspoon freshly chopped parsley
  • 1 teaspoon freshly chopped chives
  • Squeeze of fresh lemon juice
  • 2 home-grown or heirloom tomatoes from your local farmers market
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin or sunflower seeds
  • Sprinkle of black pepper


  1. Toast bread to your liking.
  2. Use a small bowl to mix yogurt, herbs and juice.
  3. Spread yogurt and herb mixture onto the warm toast.
  4. Slice tomatoes into 1/4 inch rounds and place on top of the yogurt mixture.
  5. Sprinkle with pumpkin or sunflower seeds and black pepper. Enjoy!