Dr. Gary K Owens
Dr. Owens research is focused on the molecular regulation of differentiation of vascular smooth muscle cells (SMC) during development, and how transitions in the differentiated state of these cells, or so-called SMC phenotypic switching contributes to the pathogenesis of major human diseases including atherosclerosis, cancer, hypertension, and aneurysms which are the leading causes of death worldwide. A major focus of current studies is to identify factors, mechanisms, and potential therapeutic targets that can promote beneficial, and/or inhibit detrimental SMC phenotypic transitions and associated functional changes within advanced lesions and thereby promote increased plaque stability. In addition, we are determining if mutations or gene polymorphisms that are linked to increased atherosclerotic disease in humans may function, at least in part, by promoting detrimental changes in SMC phenotype and their associated functions. We have also initiated new studies aimed at defining the role of SMC and pericyte phenotypic transitions in the pathogenesis of microvascular disease associated with Type II diabetes/metabolic disease, and in regulation of tumor cell growth and metastasis. Finally, the lab is studying the role of epigenetic mechanisms (e.g. histone modifications and chromatin structure) and embryonic stem cell (ESC) [and induced pluripotential stem (iPS) cell] pluripotency gene networks in regulating transitions in SMC phenotype during development of atherosclerosis as well as in tissue repair and regeneration. Remarkably, using novel mouse model systems developed by his group, they have evidence showing that perivascular cells including SMC and pericytes represent a source of multi-potential MSC-like cells that play a key role in tissue regeneration and repair, and that phenotypic transitions of these cells are mediated via the ESC pluripotency genes Oct4 and Klf4.
Cardiovascular Research Center
University of Virginia
Departments of Molecular Physiology and Biological Physics and the Department of Medicine