National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Project Title: “Elucidating the Impact of Chronic Stress From Social Environment on Endothelial Cell Function and Vascular Biology: A Translational Study to Address Cardiovascular Health Disparities”
Poverty, social disorder, and crime—known sources of chronic stress for people who live in neighborhoods with large populations with low socioeconomic status (SES)—likely increase the risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Previous research links these factors with changes in body mass index, waist circumference, obesity, and physical activity and also links these changes to adverse impacts on cardiovascular health and mortality. However, the effects of social environment factors on cardiovascular health and related underlying pathological changes within cells have not been a major research focus.
No research addresses endothelial cell (EC) function, an important factor in atherosclerosis and CVD, among individuals exposed to adverse neighborhood conditions. The vascular endothelium that lines the circulatory system acts as the gatekeeper in atherosclerosis development and progression and is believed to play an important role in the very early stages of atherogenesis, long before CVD can be detected. Recent findings highlight the importance of EC lipid metabolism and inflammation in early atherogenesis and show that ECs can produce and secrete cholesterol crystals. These findings suggest that lifestyle interventions or drugs that target the endothelium may help residents of low-SES neighborhoods with early-stage atherogenesis.
Researchers aim to determine whether vascular inflammation is a marker of subclinical atherosclerosis that varies among residents of high- and low-SES neighborhoods in Washington, D.C.; whether individuals from low-SES neighborhoods have altered EC lipid metabolism and EC cholesterol crystal formation; and whether patients with stress-related CVD have impaired signaling pathways controlling lysosomal function and autophagy. Researchers also hope to identify novel signaling pathways important to stress-induced atherogenesis and to broaden understanding of how CVD develops and progresses, with the hope that their work leads to interventions to reduce cardiovascular health disparities.