Julio Cordero-Morales, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Physiology in the College of Medicine at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC), has recently been awarded $1,520,000 to study the molecular basis by which dietary fatty acids — such as omega-3 and omega-6 — regulate the function of membrane proteins present in the vascular system, called transient receptor potential channels (TRP channels).
“Although dietary consumption of omega-3 fatty acids is known to have beneficial cardiovascular effects, the mechanisms and protein targets by which this occurs remain largely unknown,” Dr. Cordero-Morales said. Through extensive research, Dr. Cordero-Morales and his team have found that omega-3 fatty acids regulate the function of a specific TRP channel known as TRPV4. “Other groups have shown that TRPV4 plays an important role in reducing blood pressure. Once the precise mechanism by which TRPV4 is activated is established, it will be possible to define strategies that target TRPV4 to control systemic blood pressure.”
This grant, given to Dr. Cordero-Morales from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), paves the way for five years of funding to continue his research project entitled, “The Role of Bioactive Lipids in Transient Receptor Potential Channels Gating.”
In preliminary research using Caenorhabditis elegans, an animal model that can be genetically deprived of fatty acids, Dr. Cordero-Morales and his team discovered that a class of omega-3 fatty acids played important roles in protein function. “Once we discovered that omega-3 fatty acids were important, we moved to the second phase and studied the effect of fatty acids on TRPV4 channels present in human vascular endothelial cells.” Understanding the mechanism by which fatty acids regulate TRPV4 in these cells is key in generating novel therapeutics strategies to target this protein.
Based on his training as a biophysicist and physiologist, the third part of Dr. Cordero-Morales’ project is focused on understanding the detailed mechanism by which fatty acids regulate TRPV4 using biophysical approaches. It is expected that the combination of these interdisciplinary approaches will spearhead the way to understanding how fatty acids and other lipids regulate membrane proteins in the vascular system.