cerebral blood flow research
The primary goal of our lab is to understand how blood flows through the brain under normal conditions, and how this is disrupted in disease.
Neurons lack significant energy stores. As a result, blood flow through the brain is tightly regulated to ensure that the high energy demands of neuronal activity are constantly met with adequate nutrients from the blood. When regional neuronal activity increases, a number of mechanisms are activated that signal to the brain vasculature to increase blood flow. This phenomenon is called functional hyperemia and forms the basis of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) - a widely used brain imaging tool. The complex mechanisms that underpin functional hyperemia are grouped under the term neurovascular coupling.
Our primary research focus is on understanding these mechanisms – for example, we study how ion channel and G-protein coupled receptor signaling in the vascular wall is coordinated between endothelial cells, pericytes, and smooth muscle cells—from capillaries to arterioles—and how neurons and astrocytes communicate with blood vessels to influence blood flow.
Unfortunately, brain blood flow is fragile, and is impacted in a broad range of diseases. These include disorders such as diabetes, hypertension, stroke, and dementias such as Alzheimer's disease. Impairment of blood flow has been suggested to be an important early step in dementias such as Alzheimer’s, leading to neuronal damage and death. We are thus particularly interested in understanding exactly how blood flow gets disrupted in Alzheimer's disease, and in determining whether correcting these deficits can improve neuronal health and function.
We use advanced imaging techniques (such as high-speed multiphoton and confocal microscopy), molecular, and electrophysiological approaches to conduct our research, which enables us to link molecular activity to systems-level physiology. Current efforts in the lab are focused on determining the importance of blood flow for brain plasticity, how the expression and function of ion channels in the vascular wall changes in response to neuronal activity, how blood flow changes in response to energy substrate availability, and how these phenomena are disrupted in Alzheimer’s disease.
You can read more about our ongoing work and see some of the types of experiments we do through the links below.
If you are interested in learning more about our research and potentially joining us, please get in touch!