Research Lab Bench

Cardiovascular Physiology Research at the Medical College of Wisconsin

cardiovascularphysiologyThe Department of Physiology at MCW is working to understand fundamental principles of cardiovascular regulation and disease through a variety of diverse, yet related areas. The research is highly collaborative and spans the areas of molecular and cellular biology, genetics, proteomics, technology development and microcirculatory experiments. The major goals of this research are to understand alterations that occur in the vasculature and microvasculature in response to various stresses such as hypertension, high salt diet, and exercise. Our studies have focused on the mechanisms of blood vessel growth and regression, as well as on control of blood flow to tissues such as skeletal muscle and brain, and alterations in vessel reactivity. These measurements include gene and protein expression, receptor numbers, oxygen transport, local blood flow, and microvascular density to assess the ability of the cardiovascular microcirculatory network to meet the needs of the tissue.

We perform in vivo experiments using Positron Emission Tomography (PET), Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) and spectroscopy to measure changes in blood flow and metabolism in patients and animal models of disease, as a way to understand their basic mechanisms. Unique animal models produced with the aid of genomic manipulation are used in these experiments as a way to try and connect genes with cardiovascular functions.

Some of the departmental research interests are centered on characterizing the cellular and molecular mechanisms of muscle cell contraction, particularly arteriole muscle, and modifying these mechanisms by endothelial factors, neurotransmitters, and endogenous vasoactive agents. Intracellular electrophysiological recordings from muscle cells within intact arterial segments are done utilizing standard glass microelectrodes to study these phenomena. Cultured vascular muscle and endothelial cells are studied by voltage and patch-clamp techniques for analysis of ionic events. These techniques are being used to determine the mechanisms of the altered response of arterioles and small resistance arteries to changes in oxygen availability in hypertension. Another of our major goals is to identify the mechanisms by which a high salt diet leads to impaired vascular function, even in the absence of an elevation in blood pressure.

The department also has an interest in determining factors that can either protect the brain against ischemic damage or enhance recovery following a cerebrovascular accident. Certain hormones and pharmaceutical agents have been shown to enhance brain capillary growth and also to reduce the extent of infarction resulting from exposure of the brain to ischemia. Research efforts are underway to elucidate the mechanisms of the capillary growth and investigate the relationship between increased vessel density and protection from stroke.

MCW Physiology Faculty


Allen W. Cowley, Jr., PhD

Harry & Gertrude Hack Term Professorship in Physiology

(414) 955-8277

Secondary and Affiliated Faculty

Zeljko J. Bosnjak, PhD
Professor, Anesthesiology, MCW

David D. Gutterman, MD
Professor, Cardiology, MCW
 David F. Stowe, MD, PhD
Professor, Anesthesiology, MCW