SMHS Researchers to Study the Brain’s Role in Obesity-Induced Hypertension

The research team, led by Colin Young, was awarded $2.4 million by the National Institutes of Health.

March 13, 2018

A George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences research team was recently awarded more than $2.4 million to study how cell stress in the brain could impact the risk of obesity-induced hypertension.

Obesity affects about 30 percent of the population in the United States. Many obese individuals are at risk of developing high blood pressure, or hypertension. This can lead to stroke, heart failure and atherosclerosis. It is currently unclear, however, what causes obesity-induced hypertension.

A research team led by Colin Young, SMHS assistant professor of pharmacology and physiology, was awarded a five-year grant by the National Institutes of Health to study the issue.

“We believe there are changes in the brain that occur when individuals become obese,” Dr. Young said. “We believe these changes alter how the brain communicates with, for example, the blood vessels and the kidneys, leading to the development of hypertension.”

Through this study, Dr. Young and his team want to understand what happens in the brain with obesity that might lead to alterations in stress-related and inflammation-related processes occurring within the cells that may lead to increased blood pressure. They hypothesize that when an individual becomes obese, it creates cell stress within the brain that can lead to low-grade inflammation. The team will look at activity in specific areas in the brain.

“We see that cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide, and we have 30 percent of the population that’s obese,” Dr. Young said. “If we find that these potential pathways are impacted, it might lend insight into the potential use of already available drugs that aren’t used in hypertension or obesity, to determine if they could be good candidates for treatment.”

Dr. Young is working with co-investigator Anastas Popratiloff, SMHS adjunct associate professor of anatomy and regenerative biology, who also serves as director of the GW Nanofabrication and Imaging Center.

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