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U.Va. Researchers Awarded $8 Million to Study High Blood Pressure

January 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.

Researchers will study the structure and function of proteins that are important in regulating blood pressure and heart function.

"We 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.

In 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 death.

Calcium 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.

Smooth 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.

Using 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.

Another 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.

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services

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Top news site edited by Jane Ford (jford@virginia.edu); maintained by Karen Asher (kac@virginia.edu); releases posted by Suzanne Raileanu (sr3r@virginia.edu).
Last Modified: Wednesday, 02-Jun-1999 11:57:45 EDT
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