Women's Heart Health Laboratory

The Laboratory for Women’s Heart Health focuses on neural and non-neural control of blood pressure in women across their lifespan. The lab specifically seeks to understand: why young women feel faint more than young men; how blood pressure is regulated during pregnancy; blood pressure control and hypertension differences in relation to sex and age; and the therapeutic effects of antihypertensive drugs on patients with hypertension. Research in Dr. Fu’s laboratory is supported by the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association.

Interests

Sympathetic neural control in gestational hypertension and preeclampsia: Hypertensive disorders during pregnancy affect about 10% of all the pregnant women in the United States, and the most severe form, preeclampsia is the leading cause of maternal and fetal death and morbidity. Dr. Fu’s lab seeks to investigate sympathetic neural mechanisms in the development of gestational hypertension and preeclampsia. The primary objective of her research is to determine if sympathetic neural activity can be used as a predictor for hypertensive pregnancy before any clinical signs and symptoms appear.

Blood pressure control in women with a history of hypertensive pregnancy: Women with a history of hypertensive pregnancy have a significantly increased risk for the future development of hypertension and cardiovascular disease. Dr. Fu’s lab seeks to understand how blood pressure is regulated in these women versus in women with prior normal pregnancies. Information obtained may lead to effective prevention and treatment of chronic hypertension and cardiovascular events later in life.

Sympathetic neural control in obese women during pregnancy: Currently over one-third of adult women of child-bearing age in the United States are considered obese, and the risk of developing gestational hypertension and preeclampsia during pregnancy is greater in these women. Dr. Fu’s lab is investigating the contributions of sympathetic neural activity in obese women to hypertensive complications of pregnancy and identify potential (treatment/prevention) interventions for the growing number of women who enter prenatal care with prepregnancy obesity.

Mechanisms underlying sex differences in orthostatic intolerance: To investigate the neurohumoral influences on cardiovascular control process and physical characteristics (primarily cardiac size and function) that determine orthostatic distribution of central blood volume in healthy men and women, and in patients with the Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). To seek an effective therapy for these patients.

Mechanisms of POTS in Ehlers-Danlos syndrome (EDS): A subset of POTS patients also has EDS. The occurrence of these syndromes together may be due to the abnormal connective tissue in dependent blood vessels of those with EDS, leading to increased venous pooling, decreased stroke volume, and its hemodynamic and symptomatic consequences during orthostasis. Dr. Fu's lab is investigating the mechanisms of POTS in EDS and the therapeutic effects of short-term exercise training in POTS patients with EDS.


Current Projects

  • Determining the neural, cardiac and vascular mechanisms for hypertension in senior men and women (funded by the NIH - National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute).
  • Comparing long-term effects of antihypertensive medication aliskiren versus hydrochlorothiazide on sympathetic neural control and ventricular-arterial function in untreated Stage I hypertensive seniors (investigator initiated project funded by Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation).
  • Sympathetic neural mechanisms in the development of gestational hypertension and preeclampsia (funded by the AHA).
  • Uncovering differences in blood pressure control in women with and without a history of hypertensive pregnancy (currently pilot work).
  • Examining sex differences in baroreflex control of blood pressure during dynamic exercise (currently pilot work).

Publications

  1. Okada Y, Galbreath MM, Jarvis SS, Bivens TB, Vongpatanasin W, Levine BD, and Fu Q. Elderly blacks have a blunted sympathetic neural responsiveness but enhanced pressor response to orthostasis compared with elderly whites. Hypertension 60 (3): 842-848, 2012.
  2. Jarvis SS, Shibata S, Bivens TB, Okada Y, Casey BM, Levine BD, and Fu Q. Sympathetic activation during early pregnancy in humans. Journal of Physiology 590 (15): 3535-43, 2012.
  3. Okada Y, Galbreath MM, Shibata S, Jarvis SS, VanGundy TB, Meier RL, Vongpatanasin W, Levine BD, and Fu Q. Relationship between sympathetic baroreflex sensitivity and arterial stiffness in elderly men and women. Hypertension 59 (1): 98-104, 2012.
  4. Fu Q, VanGundy TB, Shibata S, Auchus RJ, Williams GH, and Levine BD. Exercise training versus propranolol in the treatment of the Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. Hypertension 58 (2): 167-75, 2011.
  5. Fu Q, VanGundy TB, Shibata S, Auchus RJ, Williams GH, and Levine BD. Menstrual cycle affects renal-adrenal and hemodynamic responses during prolonged standing in the Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. Hypertension 56 (1): 82-90, 2010.
  6. Fu Q, VanGundy TB, Galbreath MM, Shibata S, Jain M, Hastings JL, Bhella PS, and Levine BD. Cardiac origins of the Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. Journal of the American College of Cardiology 55 (25): 2858-68, 2010.
  7. Fu Q, Okazaki K, Shibata S, Robin SP, VanGundy TB, Galbreath MM, Reelick MF, and Levine BD. Menstrual cycle effects on sympathetic neural responses to upright tilt. Journal of Physiology 587: 2019-31, 2009.
  8. Fu Q, Vongpatanasin W, and Levine BD. Neural and nonneural mechanisms for sex differences in elderly hypertension: can exercise training help? Hypertension 52 (5): 787-94, 2008.
  9. Fu Q, Witkowski S, Okazaki K, and Levine BD. Effects of gender and hypovolemia on sympathetic neural responses to orthostatic stress. American Journal of Physiology Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology 289: R109-16, 2005.
  10. Fu Q, Witkowski S, and Levine BD. Vasoconstrictor reserve and sympathetic neural control of orthostasis. Circulation 110: 2931-7, 2004.