Scientists at the University of Liverpool, supported by the British Heart Foundation, are studying blood flow in the brain to further medical understanding of cardiovascular disease.
Dr John Quayle and Dr Tomoko Kamishima, from the University’s Department of Human Anatomy and Cell Biology, are investigating why blood supply to the brain becomes inadequate during serious illnesses, such as strokes. Approximately one in eight people are diagnosed with a disease of the heart or circulatory system in the UK each year and more than a 100,000 of these cases result in death.
Dr Quayle is studying blood flow by analysing how a muscle - which lines the walls of arteries in the brain - contracts to force the arteries to become narrower and reduce blood flow. These cerebral arteries are no bigger than the width of human hair and are the most important in regulating blood flow.
Dr Quayle explains: “Blood is supplied to the brain through blood vessels called cerebral arteries. However, despite their importance, the behaviour of these vessels is not well understood. The vessels are lined with muscle cells and when these cells contract in response to stimulation, the arteries become narrower and reduce blood flow. This can cause severe damage to the heart and other major organs in the body.
“Many scientists have used large arteries to study heart disease, but we have shown that the physiology of large arteries and small arteries is very different. We believe that a better understanding of these very small arteries will be important in developing treatments for heart diseases.
“There are occasions when arteries have to contract as a natural function, but so far scientists have been unable to identify how this occurs. Understanding the basic mechanism that dictates artery contraction is the first step in solving heart problems.”
The team will conduct the research by using molecules called nucleotides, which stimulate muscle contraction. Nucleotides also have a role in atherosclerosis, which clogs up the arteries with fatty deposits, preventing blood flow to the rest of the body.