Hardwick: Research in Biology
The main focus of my research is to investigate the control of neural inputs to the heart. The heart is controlled by the autonomic nervous system (ANS). Previously, it was thought that the main “decision-making” centers for cardiovascular regulation were all in the central nervous system. Neurons found in the peripheral nervous system, part of the ANS, were thought to serve primarily as relay stations for transferring commands from the brain to the heart. However, more recent studies suggest that these peripheral neurons can take in information from many sources and change their activity based upon this input. Thus, there is evidence for local “decision making” as well as central controls.
The projects in my lab examine different types of inputs which may alter neuronal control of the heart. Using immunohistochemical techniques (to visualize the specific peptide neurotransmitters), electrophysiological techniques (to monitor the changes in neuronal activity) and molecular techniques (to observe changes in gene expression), we can examine the integration of different neural inputs on the control of cardiac function.
One major area of research in the lab is to explore how chronic heart disease alters the neuronal regulation of the heart. Specifically, we are interested in how chronic disease alters the functional and phenotypic aspects of neurons located within the heart. For these studies, we use animal models of heart disease and study how neuronal responses to different neurochemical modulators are altered (using electrophysiogical recordings) and how gene and protein expression within these neurons changes (using biochemical techniques).
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