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Paula Q Barrett - Hypertension, primary hyperaldosteronism, calcium imaging, ion channel regulation

Science & Engineering
Supervising Faculty Member: 
Paula Q Barrett
Research Focus: 

One in every three adults in the US has hypertension. The most common form of endocrine hypertension is low-renin hypertension that is caused by excess/inappropriate production of the steroid hormone aldosterone. Aldosterone, made and secreted from specialized cells in the adrenal gland, regulates salt and water retention by the kidney as well as the constrictive properties of the vasculature, hence it controls blood pressure. Our lab is searching for new cellular targets to control the production of aldosterone that has escaped normal feedback regulation (by the renin-angiotensin II system).
Calcium is a universal second messenger that controls the activity of cells. In aldosterone producing cells intracellular calcium drives the synthesis of aldosterone. Because ion channels regulate the membrane potential of cells and because the activities (opening, closing, inactivation) of prominent calcium channels change with voltage ( are voltage-dependent), we focus on identifying the ion channels that ciritically control intracellular calcium in aldosterone-producing cells. Our goal is to find new therapies to control aldosterone synthesis and thus mitigate the pathological consequences of aldosterone excess.

Position Description: 

1. Learn how to analyze images of calcium and voltage signals using sophisticated image processing software.
2. Learn how to use a vibratome to prepare thin slices of mouse adrenal tissue
3. Assist with tissue slice imaging experiments

Required Skills: 

1. Curiosity
2. Availability (10 hrs/wk)/dependibility
3. Attention to detail
4. Willingness to engage, to ask for clarification when instruction is not clear.

Computer software: 
No training is required to begin. With time, student may be required to complete animal handler training.
What will you learn: 

1. Learn scientific method (develop hypothesis, design experiments, evaluate outcomes)
2. Learn microscopy and activity imaging analysis
3. Understand the underlying causes of hypertension

Hypertension research:1. ion channel activity (electrophysiology); 2. cellular activity imaging (wide-field fluorescent imaging of calcium and voltage reporters in tissues and cells; 3. ionic regulation of cellular activity in vitro and in vivo-regulation of aldosterone production (in vivo metabolic cage studies)