Wayne State University

WSU researcher awarded $1 million NIH grant for cardiovascular disease study

DETROIT—Patrick J. Mueller, Ph.D., assistant professor of physiology in Wayne State University’s School of Medicine, was recently awarded a $1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study how alterations in the brain caused by inactivity may contribute to an individual’s risk of cardiovascular disease.

Physical inactivity is considered a major risk factor of cardiovascular disease, the world’s leading cause of death. But how and why physical inactivity contributes to cardiovascular disease is not fully understood. Mueller’s study attempts to shed light on this increasingly common problem. “This is an important clinical, economic and public health care problem,” said Mueller.

“This study may improve the lives of individuals who are unable or unwilling to exercise by advancing the possibility of developing new treatment options for cardiovascular disease, increasing public awareness of the sedentary lifestyle’s adverse effects and indirectly reducing the rising health care costs associated with physical inactivity,” said Mueller.

The study will focus on RVLM neurons, so called because they are located in a brain region known as the rostral ventrolateral medulla (RVLM). This brain region is critical to normal blood pressure regulation but also has been implicated in disease states such as hypertension. “Our grant will determine the extent to which cells in the brain that control our heart and blood vessels are altered whether an individual exercises regularly or remains sedentary,” said Mueller.

Mueller and his team believe that during physical inactivity NMDA (N-methyl D-aspartate) receptors are increased on RVLM neurons and enhance the responsiveness of the sympathetic nervous system. When the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated, blood vessels contract and the heart rate accelerates. If this happens over a prolonged period of time, an individual will be more likely to develop hypertension, arrhythmias and other forms of cardiovascular disease.

“We are very fortunate to have a highly collaborative team on this project including members within the Department of Physiology, the School Of Medicine and at other institutions,” Mueller said. Co-investigators involved in the project, all from Wayne State University, are Tadeusz J. Scislo, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of research and physiology, School of Medicine; Harry G. Goshgarian, Ph.D., professor of anatomy and cell biology, School of Medicine; and Yun Wang, M.S., research assistant, Eugene Applebaum College of Pharmacy and Health Science, Department of Pharmacy Practice.

Consultants on the project include: Ida Llewellyn-Smith, Ph.D., associate professor at Flinders University in Australia; Genene Holt, Ph.D., assistant professor of anatomy and cell biology, WSU’s School of Medicine; Robert MacKenzie, Ph.D., associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral neuroscience, WSU’s School of Medicine; and Michael Chopp, Ph.D., distinguished professor of neurology, Oakland University.


Wayne State University is one of the nation’s pre-eminent public research universities in an urban setting. Through its multidisciplinary approach to research and education, and its ongoing collaboration with government, industry and other institutions, the university seeks to enhance economic growth and improve the quality of life in the city of Detroit, state of Michigan and throughout the world. For more information about research at Wayne State University, visit http://www.research.wayne.edu.