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Alex Dopico, MD, PhD, of UTHSC Investigating Mechanisms and Novel Drug Therapies to Control Vascular Function

Dr. Alex Dopico (Photo by Allen Gillespie/UTHSC)

Alex Dopico, MD, PhD, University Distinguished Professor and chair of the Department of Pharmacology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), has been awarded over $2.4 million from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) to explore the mechanisms by which our bodies regulate arterial diameter and thus develop new drug therapies to control vascular diseases.

The human body naturally produces various types of steroids, most in the form of hormones, which have a wide variety of roles and functions. Throughout our lives, our hormone levels will naturally fluctuate like during puberty for example. Dr. Dopico’s research is specifically examining how endogenous steroids (STs) interact with certain ion channels (a type of proteins found in cells) to regulate vascular diameter.

“Lipids, in particular steroidal hormones, control cardiovascular function,” Dr. Dopico said. “Their direct interactions with certain ion channels dictate how wide or narrow artery diameter is. An abnormal artery diameter plays a significant role in diabetes, hypertension, aging, and stroke.”

Dr. Dopico and his collaborators Anna Bukiya, PhD, associate professor of Pharmacology at UTHSC, and Abby Parrill-Baker, PhD, Interim Dean and Professor at the University of Memphis, have developed new pharmacological agents which will be used to investigate the role specific ion channels play in controlling arterial diameter. They will be paying close attention to the vascular actions of STs to see if these novel agents counteract or synergize modulation of ion channel and thus, arterial function.

“Our focus on the brain and other surrounding arteries is relevant to conditions where two arterial territories are affected by disease, such as hypertensive encephalopathy,” Dr. Dopico said. “The ultimate goal is to pinpoint a direct interaction between endogenous steroids and ion channels that control artery diameter, and use this information to design new drugs. The data we collect is a significant first step in the creation of future cardiovascular medications for diseases such as stroke and hypertension, or conditions that may require control of steroid action on the vasculature like hyperfunction of the adrenal glands or during estrogen therapy.”

Dr. Dopico’s project titled, “Regulation of Arterial Diameter Through Specific Sensing of Endogenous Steroids and Novel Nonsteroidal Analogs by BK Channel Subunits,” is being funded for four years.