UMBC Biological Sciences Department

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With more than 30 tenured and tenure-track faculty members and lecturers, UMBC’s Department of Biological Sciences is one of the university’s largest academic departments encompassing a wide breadth of research and teaching. Research faculty in the Biological Sciences focus on:
  • Cell Biology
  • Computational Biology
  • Developmental Biology & Immunology
  • Evolutionary Biology
  • Molecular Biology & Genetics
  • Neuroscience
  • Plant Biology
The department offers a full complement of baccalaureate and graduate programs leading to B.A., B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees, which are recognized for their emphasis on research, scientific approach, faculty contact, and extensive laboratory offerings. These programs serve to train a broad spectrum of future biologists and researchers, and to prepare students for graduate and professional schools.


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 20 of 701
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    Sex-specific mechanisms underlie long-term potentiation at hippocampus-medium spiny neuron synapses in the medial shell of the nucleus accumbens
    (Society for Neuroscience, 2024-05-24) Copenhaver, Ashley E.; LeGates, Tara
    Sex differences have complicated our understanding of the neurobiological basis of many behaviors that are key for survival. As such, continued elucidation of the similarities and differences between sexes is necessary to gain insight into brain function and vulnerability. The connection between the hippocampus (Hipp) and nucleus accumbens (NAc) is a crucial site where modulation of neuronal activity mediates reward-related behavior. Our previous work demonstrated that long-term potentiation (LTP) of Hipp→NAc synapses is rewarding, and mice can establish learned associations between LTP of these synapses and the contextual environment in which LTP occurred. Here, we investigated sex differences in the mechanisms underlying Hipp→NAc LTP using whole-cell electrophysiology and pharmacology. We observed similarities in basal synaptic strength between males and females and found that LTP occurs postsynaptically with similar magnitudes in both sexes. However, key sex differences emerged as LTP in males required NMDA receptors (NMDAR) whereas LTP in females utilized an NMDAR-independent mechanism involving L-type voltage-gated Ca²⁺ channels (VGCC) and estrogen receptor α (ERα). We also uncovered sex-similar features as LTP in both sexes depended on CaMKII activity and occurred independently of dopamine-1 receptor (D1R) activation. Our results have elucidated sex-specific molecular mechanisms for LTP in an integral pathway that mediates reward-related behaviors, emphasizing the importance of considering sex as a variable in mechanistic studies. Continued characterization of sex-specific mechanisms underlying plasticity will offer novel insight into the neurophysiological basis of behavior, with significant implications for understanding how diverse processes mediate behavior and contribute to vulnerability to developing psychiatric disorders. Significance statement Strengthening of hippocampus-nucleus accumbens (Hipp-NAc) synapses drives reward-related behaviors. Long-term potentiation (LTP) occurs with a similar magnitude in males and females, and both sexes have a predicted postsynaptic locus of plasticity. Despite these similarities, here we illustrate that sex-specific molecular mechanisms underlie LTP at Hipp-NAc synapses. Given the bidirectional relationship between Hipp-NAc synaptic strength in mediating reward-related behaviors, the use of distinct molecular mechanisms may explain sex differences observed in stress susceptibility or response to rewarding stimuli. Uncovering these latent sex differences offers a deeper understanding of the sex-specific function of this behaviorally-relevant synapse with widespread implications for circuits that underlie learning and reward-related behavior.
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    Deep PIM kinase substrate profiling reveals new rational co-therapeutic strategies for acute myeloid leukemia
    (American Society of Hematology, 2024-05-13) Joglekar, Tejashree; Chin, Alexander; Voskanian-Kordi, Alin; Seungchul, Baek; Raja, Azim; Rege, Apurv; Huang, Weiliang; Kane, Maureen A; Laiho, Marikki; Webb, Thomas; Fan, Xiaoxuan; Rubenstein, Michael; Bieberich, Charles J.; Li, Xiang
    Provirus integration site for Moloney murine leukemia virus (PIM) family serine/threonine kinases perform pro-tumorigenic functions in hematologic malignancies and solid tumors by phosphorylating substrates involved in tumor metabolism, cell survival, metastasis, inflammation, and immune cell invasion. However, a comprehensive understanding of PIM kinase functions is currently lacking. Multiple small molecule PIM kinase inhibitors are currently being evaluated as co-therapeutics in cancer patients. To further illuminate PIM kinase functions in cancer, we deeply profiled PIM1 substrates using the reverse in-gel kinase assay to identify downstream cellular processes targetable with small molecules. Pathway analyses of putative PIM substrates nominated RNA splicing and rRNA processing as PIM-regulated cellular processes. PIM inhibition elicited reproducible splicing changes in PIM-inhibitor-responsive acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cell lines. PIM inhibitors synergized with splicing modulators targeting splicing factor 3b subunit 1 (SF3B1) and serine-arginine protein kinase 1 (SRPK1) to kill AML cells. PIM inhibition also altered rRNA processing, and PIM inhibitors synergized with an RNA polymerase I inhibitor to kill AML cells and block AML tumor growth. These data demonstrate that deep kinase substrate knowledge can illuminate unappreciated kinase functions, nominating synergistic co-therapeutic strategies. This approach may expand the co-therapeutic armamentarium to overcome kinase-inhibitor resistant disease that limits durable responses in malignant disease.
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    The people behind the papers – Jason Ko and Daniel Lobo
    (The Company of Biologists Ltd, 2024-05-09) Ko, Jason; Lobo, Daniel
    Planarians grow when they are fed and shrink during periods of starvation. However, it is unclear how they maintain appropriate body proportions as their size changes. A new paper in Development investigates the differences between growth and shrinkage dynamics and builds a mathematical model to explore the mechanisms underpinning these two processes. To learn more about the story behind the paper, we caught up with first author, Jason Ko, and corresponding author, Daniel Lobo, Associate Professor at the University of Maryland.
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    Recovering from hypoxia-induced metabolic suppression: Role of N-myc Downstream Regulated Gene 1a in Na+/K+/ATPase restoration from the cytosol to the plasma membrane
    (UMBC Review, 2024) Kassir, Polina; Brewster, Rachel
    Oxygen plays a life-critical role in oxidative phosphorylation. Zebrafish embryos, however, can survive nearly fifty hours in a zero-oxygen (anoxic) environment by entering a state of metabolic suppression characterized by metabolic arrest of ATP-demanding processes, such as ion pumping driven by the sodium potassium pump (NKA). The Brewster Lab has previously shown that the N-myc Downstream Regulated Gene 1 (NDRG1) mediates NKA downregulation in the embryonic kidney and ionocytes, allowing for embryonic energy conservation. Here, I explore the question of whether Ndrg1a promotes the return of membrane NKA levels upon re-oxygenation after sustained anoxia, using the proximity ligation assay (PLA) to detect whether these proteins interact in situ. I focus on ionocyte morphology because qualitative analysis of these structures allows for direct assessment of protein subcellular localization. I hypothesize that if Ndrg1 is required for NKA recycling or exocytosis post- anoxia, then these proteins should remain associated throughout re-oxygenation, transitioning from the cytosol to the plasma membrane over time; this is consistent with known protein trafficking roles of NDRGs. My preliminary data(n=2) reveal a significant shift in NKA localization. In contrast, PLA signal remained relatively consistent over time, suggesting an NKANdrg1a interaction confined to the cytosol. These findings suggest that NDRG1, acting as a versatile adapter protein and environmental oxygen-lactate sensor, may play a role in intracellular trafficking of NKA to mediate post-metabolic-arrest survival. Identification of the subcellular compartments where these proteins interact will further our understanding of the role of Ndrg1a in hypoxia adaptation.
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    Peripheral blood transcriptomic profiling of molecular mechanisms commonly regulated by binge drinking and placebo effects
    (Nature, 2024-05-10) Shetty, Amol Carl; Sivinski, John; Cornell, Jessica; McCracken, Carrie; Sadzewicz, Lisa; Mahurkar, Anup; Wang, Xing-Qun; Colloca, Luana; Lin, Weihong; Pilli, Nageswara; Kane, Maureen A.; Seneviratne, Chamindi
    Molecular responses to alcohol consumption are dynamic, context-dependent, and arise from a complex interplay of biological and external factors. While many have studied genetic risk associated with drinking patterns, comprehensive studies identifying dynamic responses to pharmacologic and psychological/placebo effects underlying binge drinking are lacking. We investigated transcriptome-wide response to binge, medium, and placebo alcohol consumption by 17 healthy heavy social drinkers enrolled in a controlled, in-house, longitudinal study of up to 12 days. Using RNA-seq, we identified 251 and 13 differentially expressed genes (DEGs) in response to binge drinking and placebo, respectively. Eleven protein-coding DEGs had very large effect sizes in response to binge drinking (Cohen’s d > 1). Furthermore, binge dose significantly impacted the Cytokine-cytokine receptor interaction pathway (KEGG: hsa04060) across all experimental sequences. Placebo also impacted hsa04060, but only when administered following regular alcohol drinking sessions. Similarly, medium-dose and placebo commonly impacted KEGG pathways of Systemic lupus erythematosus, Neutrophil extracellular trap formation, and Alcoholism based on the sequence of drinking sessions. These findings together indicate the “dose-extending effects” of placebo at a molecular level. Furthermore, besides supporting alcohol dose-specific molecular changes, results suggest that the placebo effects may induce molecular responses within the same pathways regulated by alcohol.
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    Complete genome sequence of the Streptomyces bacteriophage Amabiko
    (American Society for Microbiology, 2024-04-23) Milhaven, Mark; Bakry, Heba A.; Batra, Anuvi; Bermingham, Amanda M.; Grama, Gloria; Kebe, Jacob; Martinez, Shawn S.; Mudunuri, Rishika V.; Nelson, Megan R.; Nguyen, Evie T.; Peterson, Mia M.; Pruitt, Alexis; Tran, Kristan; Brar, Akarshi; Cerna, Gabriella; Chaffee, Elaine; Caruso, Steven; Pfeifer, Susanne P.
    Amabiko is a lytic subcluster BE2 bacteriophage that infects Streptomyces scabiei—a bacterium causing common scab in potatoes. Its 131,414 bp genome has a GC content of 49.5% and contains 245 putative protein-coding genes, 45 tRNAs, and one tmRNA. Amabiko is closely related to Streptomyces bacteriophage MindFlayer (gene content similarity: 86.5%).
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    Investigating the Role of Actin57B Gene on Age-Related Changes in Immune Response
    (UMBC Review, 2024) Ravi, Yamini; Ober, Ellison; Leips, Jeff
    The age-related decline in the innate immune response, or immunosenescence, is highly variable among eukaryotes and has been shown to have a genetic basis. Using Drosophila melanogaster as the model organism, previous studies have identified several candidate genes that could affect an organism’s infection clearance ability. One of the genes identified is Actin57B, which is upregulated in older flies. This gene has been studied for its involvement in embryonic muscle development, but little is known about its role in the innate immune response. To assess the role of Actin57B in immune response, we knocked down its expression in hemocytes using the Gal4/UAS system in Drosophila melanogaster to activate RNA interference against the gene. To evaluate the immune response, one and five week old flies were injected with an E. coli solution and were given 24-hours to recover and clear the infection. The surviving flies were homogenized and plated on agar plates. The resulting bacterial colonies were counted and used as the phenotype that reflects the remaining infection. Through measuring the impact of Actin57B on the innate immune response, our results will validate findings that this gene contributes to immunity and aid in the development of more effective, personalized therapeutics to improve healthspan.
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    Microbe Profile: Cellvibrio japonicus: living the sweet life via biomass break-down
    (Microbiology Society, 2024-04-03) Gardner, Jeffrey
    Cellvibrio japonicus is a saprophytic bacterium proficient at environmental polysaccharide degradation for carbon and energy acquisition. Genetic, enzymatic, and structural characterization of C. japonicus carbohydrate active enzymes, specifically those that degrade plant and animal-derived polysaccharides, demonstrated that this bacterium is a carbohydrate-bioconversion specialist. Structural analyses of these enzymes identified highly specialized carbohydrate binding modules that facilitate activity. Steady progress has been made in developing genetic tools for C. japonicus to better understand the function and regulation of the polysaccharide-degrading enzymes it possesses, as well as to develop it as a biotechnology platform to produce renewable fuels and chemicals.
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    Dual treatment with kynurenine pathway inhibitors and NAD⁺ precursors synergistically extends life span in Drosophila
    (Wiley, 2024-03-13) Gabrawy, Mariann M.; Westbrook, Reyhan; King, Austin; Khosravian, Nick; Ochaney, Neeraj; DeCarvalho, Tagide; Wang, Qinchuan; Yu, Yuqiong; Huang, Qiao; Said, Adam; Abadir, Michael; Zhang, Cissy; Khare, Pratik; Fairman, Jennifer E.; Le, Anne; Milne, Ginger L.; Vonhoff, Fernando J; Walston, Jeremy D.; Abadir, Peter M.
    Tryptophan catabolism is highly conserved and generates important bioactive metabolites, including kynurenines, and in some animals, NAD⁺. Aging and inflammation are associated with increased levels of kynurenine pathway (KP) metabolites and depleted NAD⁺, factors which are implicated as contributors to frailty and morbidity. Contrastingly, KP suppression and NAD⁺ supplementation are associated with increased life span in some animals. Here, we used DGRP_229 Drosophila to elucidate the effects of KP elevation, KP suppression, and NAD⁺ supplementation on physical performance and survivorship. Flies were chronically fed kynurenines, KP inhibitors, NAD⁺ precursors, or a combination of KP inhibitors with NAD⁺ precursors. Flies with elevated kynurenines had reduced climbing speed, endurance, and life span. Treatment with a combination of KP inhibitors and NAD⁺ precursors preserved physical function and synergistically increased maximum life span. We conclude that KP flux can regulate health span and life span in Drosophila and that targeting KP and NAD⁺ metabolism can synergistically increase life span.
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    Evolutionary Optics: How Mantis Shrimps Enhance Photoreception and Signaling Effectiveness
    (Optica Publishing Group, 2021-07-26) Cronin, Thomas
    Mantis shrimps (stomatopod crustaceans) have evolved numerous adaptations in their photoreceptors and in body structures used to produce visual signals. Novel optical structures exist at microscales and nanoscales, often operating by previously unknown optical mechanisms.
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    Neuroanatomy of stomatopod central complexes offers putative neural substrate for oriented behaviors in crustaceans
    (2022-06-13) Chou, Alice; Sayre, Marcel E.; Lin, Chan; Cronin, Thomas
    All insects studied to date possess a centrally located group of neuropils, known collectively as the central complex, that has been implicated in sensory integration and motor action selection. Among the functions prescribed to the central complex, none is perhaps as intriguing as its role in orientation and navigation. Neurobiological correlates of both current and desired headings have been described in insect CXs. Despite the diversity of arthropods, understanding of the CX as a navigational center originates entirely from terrestrial insects. Stomatopod crustaceans, commonly referred to as mantis shrimps, form an order of predatory marine crustaceans with intricate and diverse visual systems that maintain the distinction of being the only fully aquatic animal known to utilize the navigational strategy of path integration. They utilize idiothetic, celestial, and landmark cues to orient in the benthos. Here, we investigate the neuroanatomy of adult and developing mantis shrimp central complexes and associated neuropils to begin understanding this brain region in a sensorially and behaviorally complex crustacean.
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    Assessing departmental readiness to support minoritized faculty
    (Wiley, 2024-02-27) Carter-Veale, Wendy Y.; Cresiski, Robin H.; Sharp, Gwen; Lankford, Jordan D.; Ugarte, Fadel
    Though increasing numbers of racially and ethnically minoritized (REM) individuals earn PhDs and national initiatives focus on faculty diversity, challenges persist in recruiting, hiring, and retaining REM faculty. While a pervasive issue nationally, the literature predominantly focuses on faculty diversity at research-intensive institutions. This exploratory case study pilots a readiness instrument to evaluate the commitment and willingness of a biomedical department at a primarily undergraduate institution to embrace faculty diversity before initiating a postdoctoral faculty conversion program. We introduce the Community Readiness Model (CRM) into an academic context, offering academic departments a robust framework and tool to evaluate readiness and capacity to recruit, retain, and support REM faculty. Practical Takeaways Academic departments can be conceived of as a type of community. The adapted Department Readiness Tool can be a valuable method of evaluating a department's readiness to support the success of underrepresented minority faculty. Departments may score highly on some areas of readiness but relatively low on others, which provides insight into where time and resources should be invested to improve readiness.
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    New U.S. News rankings honor UMBC strengths in teaching, innovation, and inclusion
    (UMBC News, 2020-09-14) McCaffrey, Kait; Winnick, Dinah
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    Raaz: A Transdisciplinary Exploration at the Intersection of Bioart, HCI, and Community Engagement
    (Frontiers, 2022-03-17) Stamato, Lydia; Higgins, Erin; Prottoy, Hasan Mahmud; Asgarali-Hoffman, S. Nisa; Scheifele, Lisa; Dusman, Linda; deCarvalho, Tagide; Ascencao, Teresa; Hamidi, Foad
    Living organisms and their biological properties, including the capacity for transformation and representation of information, offer exciting and inspiring opportunities for transdisciplinary art and design explorations. While an emerging body of work is increasingly investigating the possibilities at the intersection of interactive computing, biology, and art, more work is needed to investigate the potential of these approaches for supporting community and public engagement and participation in art, science, and technology. In this project, we describe a multimedia transdisciplinary bioart installation and hands-on agar art activity that we presented to members of the public in a community biology lab setting. Using short interviews, observations, and questionaries, we investigated attendees' reactions and impressions of the experience and found that the event generated transdisciplinary reflections, invited participants to bring their previous knowledge and experience to bear in engaging with different aspects of the work, and that the audience benefited from contextualization by artists.
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    In situ probe and inhibitory RNA synthesis using streamlined gene cloning with Gibson assembly
    (Cell Press, 2022-06-14) Wolff, Andrew; Wagner, Cynthia; Wolf, Julia; Lobo, Daniel
    The synthesis of single-stranded riboprobes or double-stranded RNAs for in situ hybridization and gene knockdowns often use vectors that require time-consuming plasmid restriction digests and inefficient gel purifications. Here, we present a faster protocol for the simultaneous plasmid restriction digestion and Gibson assembly of vectors for the synthesis of both riboprobes and double-stranded RNAs for in situ and RNA interference experiments, respectively. We illustrate the protocol with planaria in situ and RNAi assays, but it is applicable to any organism.
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    Mechanistic Regulation of Planarian Shape During Growth and Degrowth
    (2023-09-16) Ko, Jason M.; Reginato, Waverly; Lobo, Daniel
    Adult planarians can grow when fed and degrow (shrink) when starved while maintaining their whole-body shape with correct proportions. Different planarian morphogens are expressed at the anterior-posterior poles, medio-lateral border, and midline to provide positional information signals for the specification of different tissues at the right locations. However, it is currently unknown how these signals are coordinated together during feeding or starvation and how they modulate the differential tissue growth or degrowth necessary to form correct whole-body shapes. Here we investigate the dynamics of planarian shape during growth and degrowth together with a theoretical study to evaluate the mechanisms that regulate whole-body proportions and shape. We found that the planarian body proportions scale isometrically following similar linear rates during growth and degrowth, but that fed worms are significantly wider than starved worms. By combining a descriptive model of planarian shape and size with a mechanistic model of anterior-posterior and medio-lateral signaling calibrated with a novel machine learning methodology, we demonstrate that the feedback loop between these positional information signals and the shape they control can regulate the planarian whole-body shape during growth. Furthermore, the model can predict the correct shape and size dynamics during degrowth due to an increase in apoptosis rate and pole signal during starvation. These results offer mechanistic insights into planarian shape and size dynamics and the regulation of whole-body morphologies.
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    Complete genome and characteristics of cluster BC bacteriophage SoJo, isolated using Streptomyces mirabilis NRRL B-2400 in Columbia, MD
    (ASM, 2024-02-23) Kumar, Soven Verma; Schaffer, Nicholas; Bharmal, Zainab; Mood, Quinn; 2022 UMBC Phage Hunters; Erill, Ivan; Caruso, Steven
    Here, we present bacteriophage SoJo, a siphovirus infecting Streptomyces mirabilis, with a circularly permuted genome of 39 kbp and GC content of 71.5%. Its genome length and content are similar to that of other phages in the Actinobacteriophage Database BC cluster. SoJo was isolated from soil in Columbia, MD, USA.
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    Investigating the Role of the Circadian Clock Genes PRR5, PRR7, and PRR9 in Regulating Plant Immunity
    (2024) Hallworth, Amelia; Zhang, Chong; Lu, Hua
    Successful defense against pathogens is critical for plant survival. Recent studies have shown that the circadian clock, the internal time measuring machinery, is involved in disease resistance in addition to its roles in plant development. One such protein, LUX, binds to the promoters of the clock genes PRR5, 7, and 9; and we have preliminary results to show that these genes are involved in defense. To confirm if these genes affect SA-mediated defense, we introduced individual single mutants of the genes PRR5, 7, and 9 into acd6-1, a small mutant plant with constitutive defense whose size change predicts the defense levels. We have isolated the double mutants (acd6-1prr5, acd6-1prr7, acd6-1prr9), two triple mutants (acd6-1prr5prr9 and acd6-1prr7prr9), and the quadruple mutant (acd6-1prr5prr7prr9). We are currently assessing the plant phenotypes by measuring their sizes, cell death levels, SA levels, and the expression of defense genes. Analysis of acd6-1 phenotype suppression, if any exists, will show whether the PRR5, 7, and 9 genes act in a synergistic manner in the SA pathway. Significant phenotypic recovery would be evidence for roles of these genes in defense control.
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    Diagnosis and Management of Lean Metabolic Dysfunction-Associated Steatotic Liver Disease (MASLD): A Systematic Review
    (2024-02-15) Njei, Basile; Ameyaw, Prince; Al-Ajlouni, Yazan A.; Njei, Lea-Pearl; Boateng, Sarpong
    Background Lean Metabolic Dysfunction-Associated Steatotic Liver Disease (MASLD) challenges traditional perceptions of fatty liver diseases, occurring in non-obese individuals. The shift in nomenclature from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease to metabolic dysfunction-associated steatotic liver disease reflects a broader understanding of its pathophysiology, emphasizing the intricate interplay of metabolic components beyond obesity. Despite its clinical relevance, the diagnosis and management of Lean MASLD pose unique challenges due to historical associations with obesity and limited awareness of its distinctive features. Methods A comprehensive systematic literature search was conducted on December 4th, 2023, in six databases using specific criteria. Only peer-reviewed studies in the English language, focusing on either diagnosis or management of lean MASLD. were included. This study is registered with PROSPERO (CRD42023489308) Results Following PRISMA guidelines, a total of 95 studies were included, with 43 studies focusing on diagnosis and surveillance of MASLD, while 52 studies focused on management of MASLD. The findings provide insights into the challenges associated with diagnosing Lean MASLD. Emphasis is placed on the evolving diagnostic criteria, acknowledging the limitations of traditional markers and exploring advanced imaging modalities. Management strategies are explored, including lifestyle interventions and potential pharmacological treatments, considering the unique metabolic characteristics of this patient population. Conclusion The findings underscore the need for heightened clinical awareness, regular monitoring, and tailored therapeutic approaches in lean MASLD. Further research is essential to refine diagnostic criteria and develop targeted treatments, paving the way for improved care for individuals with Lean MASLD.