Researchers Awarded $8 Million to Study High Blood Pressure
15, 1999 -- The cause of high blood pressure, which
affects about 75 million Americans and often fosters strokes and
heart disease, is still unknown. But U.Va. medical researchers will
aim to gain a better understanding, armed with an $8 million grant
from the National Institutes of Health.
will study the structure and function of proteins that are important
in regulating blood pressure and heart function.
hope that by increasing our understanding of the ultrastructure
and mechanisms of these proteins we can gain greater insight into
hypertension and develop better treatments," said Dr. Andrew P.
Somlyo, chair of the Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics
department and principal investigator of the study.
addition to high blood pressure, the research team will focus on
the involvement of smooth muscle proteins in asthma and other diseases
of smooth muscle, as well as the role of calcium in the development
of ventricular fibrillation, the most common cause of sudden cardiac
will be detected with a specialized electron microscope using methods
developed in the laboratory of Somlyo and his wife, Avril V. Somlyo,
professor of Pathology and Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics.
muscle makes up the walls of internal organs, such as blood vessels
and the digestive tract. Blood pressure is regulated when the walls
of the blood vessels contract or expand in response to certain chemicals
in the blood.
a highly sophisticated cryo-atomic force microscope that was developed
by U.Va. biologist Zhifeng Shao, Somlyo and his group will study
the effects of regulation on the structure of myosin molecules of
smooth muscle. Myosin is the "motor" responsible for contraction
of vascular smooth muscle and narrowing of blood vessels.
protein that will be examined is rhoA, which modulates calcium sensitivity
of smooth muscles. Understanding the atomic structures of these
proteins and their complexes with other molecules is important in
determining the causes of various diseases and in developing drugs
to treat them, Somylo said.