The Amazing Shrinking Fat

This is a series of four different paintings showing fat cells, called adipocytes in obese individuals and how they lose their size with regular exercise. Note the size of the fat cell shrinks with decreasing weight, but the number of fat cells do not. I have put a silhouette on each figure to show how increasing activity decreases weight, and changes size of fat cells.

I also show macrophages in white and purple. Note the white macrophages are more prominent with increased fat and the dark purple cells are more prominent in the normal weight individual that is running. These two types of macrophages have different functions. The white ones, called M1s, release chemicals, called cytokines, that produce inflammation and pain. The purple ones, called M2s, release chemicals that reduce inflammation and are analgesic. Regular exercise can change these macrophage types to increase the chemicals that reduce pain and inflammation.

Obesity is associated with a number of other diseases including chronic pain, heat disease and diabetes. Systemic inflammation contributes to these conditions, and regular exercise is an effective treatment for these conditions.



This acrylic painting shows adipocytes-fat cells in green. The red cells are macrophages and release inflammatory cytokines, chemicals that result in a systemic inflammation. The yellow-orange fibers are sympathetic fibers which show increased activity in obesity.

Obesity is an increasingly recognized health concern in the United States and world-wide.  The Center for Disease Control in 2014 showed that more than one-third (36.5%) of U.S. adults and 17% of children were obese.

There are a numnber of health isssues associated with obesity-for more information see the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. These include:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • cancer
  • sleep apnea
  • osteoarthritis
  • liver disease
  • kidney disease





This acrylic painting shows stem cells in black and white and the cells they can differentiate into in the body. This includes neurons in blur, endothelial cells that line the walls of blood vessels in red at top, epithelial cells lining the gut in green, fat cells (adipocytes) in Light brown, muscle cells in red at bottom of picture, chondrocytes that make up cartilage in orange and immune cells in purple.

Pain Wars

This cartoon I call Pain Wars. It represents the balance between inhibition and excitation that goes on in the central nervous system to modulate pain. I show neurons with their axon terminals shooting out neurotransmitters. Excitatory neurons are red and inhibitory are blue.

Reprint Art

Reprint art

This is a collage of my old reprints from manuscripts I wrote when I was a graduate student at UT Galveston. I then used markers to draw a neuron over the top. My papers examine arthritis pain. The papers included here examined neurotransmitter release and activity of nociceptors.

Up until about 10 years ago many journals sent complimentary reprints on nice glossy paper to the author so we could distribute. This is a thing of the past in the new paperless age of research. Now manuscripts are generally readily accessible.

So for all you older scientists don’t throw away your old reprints, send them my way instead.

Brain Fog

An acrylic painting representing a condition called brain fog common in chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia. Also sometimes referred to as fibrofog, people with chronic pain often talk about having difficulty concentrating or difficulty with memory. Brain fog is not unique to pain and is also common in those taking chemotherapy for cancer, multiple sclerosis, chronic fatigue syndrome, lack of sleep, and some medications. What causes brain fog is unknown but it is likely associated with alterations in neurons in the central nervous system.


Descending inhibition

Descending inhibition.

This is a new cartoon I made to depict the activation of our endogenous pain inhibition pathways and how they can reduce pain. The “fire” is composed of neurons that are hyperactive and would transmit pain. The green “hoses” are actually axons that transmit inhibitory signals. The inhibition is produced by neurons, “blue cells” that are squelching the fire below.

Our body has a number of inhibition neurotransmitters that are used to reduce pain. These include opioids, serotonin, and GABA, all of which have been shown to inhibit pain. These neurotransmitters are also released by regular exercise and TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) and provide the mechanism for how exercise works to reduce pain.

Muscle fiber collage

I just put together a collage of my earlier muscle fiber painting (Cells of Strength, 2015). I love the geometric design. Red are muscle cells and green are nerves.

Signal Relay


Signal Relay

An acrylic painting showing axons and how they connect to relay signals from one neuron to another. This is called neurotransmission. Along axons on left side of picture signals are transferred electrically. On right I show synapses which relay signals chemically between neurons. The round vesicles have chemicals, called neurotransmitters, that are released from the end of an axon. These chemicals travel across a dynamic cleft to bind to receptors on an opposing heron, called dendrite. The signal is processed to eventually turn into another electrical signal before communicating with another neuron through a synapse. Mitochondria, oval shaped, provide energy for the process. Actin (depicted as squiggly lines in dendrites) provides support and structure and microtubules (straight lines in axons on left) are used to transport chemicals to the synapse.

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