OCT 26, 2017 4:51 AM PDT

Revealed: the Skin's Power to Regulate Blood Pressure and Heart Rate

WRITTEN BY: Kara Marker

Some people may forget that the skin is the human body’s largest organ, and it has many diverse functions. Now, researchers realize that regulating blood pressure and heart rate is one of those functions, and a collaboration between University of Cambridge and Karolinska Institute scientists breaks down the intricate details of how the skin is involved in regulating blood flow through small vessels.

What causes changes in blood pressure, specifically? It’s not exactly clear, but scientists do know that things like high altitude, pollution, smoking, and obesity can all influence changes. "Nine of ten cases of high blood pressure appear to occur spontaneously, with no known cause," explained Cambridge’s Randall Johnson.

Whatever the specific cause, increases in blood pressure can quickly become dangerous if left untreated, leading to heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases when blood flow through small vessels, like those in the skin, changes. By examining the skin instead of other organs classically studied in the context of blood pressure - brain, heart and kidneys - the present study yields unique findings.

Whatever the reason, when a tissue is oxygen deficient, the body redirects blood flow as a response. This is a mechanism highly regulated by a family of proteins called “HIF.” So when the team of researchers began their study of the skin and blood pressure, they started with HIF.

First, researchers watched how mice, genetically modified as unable to produce particular HIF proteins in the skin, responded to low oxygen conditions. They observed a so-called “feedback loop” between the skin and the cardiovascular system. “By working with mice, we were able to manipulate key genes involved in this loop,” Johnson explained.

They saw that when mice lacked one of two HIF skin proteins, HIF-1α or HIF-2α, the response to low oxygen levels changed compared to mice sufficient with both proteins, impacting heart rate, blood pressure, and skin temperature.

Next, researchers looked at the response of normally, genetically-unaltered mice to oxygen starvation. Losing HIF proteins had an enormous influence on the initiation and duration of this process.

“Our skin's response to low levels of oxygen may have substantial effects on the how the heart pumps blood around the body," explained first author Dr. Andrew Cowburn. "Low oxygen levels - whether temporary or sustained - are common and can be related to our natural environment or to factors such as smoking and obesity.”

The present study was published in the journal eLife.

Source: University of Cambridge

About the Author
  • I am a scientific journalist and enthusiast, especially in the realm of biomedicine. I am passionate about conveying the truth in scientific phenomena and subsequently improving health and public awareness. Sometimes scientific research needs a translator to effectively communicate the scientific jargon present in significant findings. I plan to be that translating communicator, and I hope to decrease the spread of misrepresented scientific phenomena! Check out my science blog: ScienceKara.com.
You May Also Like
JUL 04, 2020
Cardiology
Discovering a New Signal Junction Controlling Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension
JUL 04, 2020
Discovering a New Signal Junction Controlling Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension
Pulmonary Arterial Hypertension (PAH) is a progressive and fatal disease characterized by the muscularization of blood c ...
JUL 03, 2020
Cardiology
How Diet and Gut Microbes May Impact Artery Health
JUL 03, 2020
How Diet and Gut Microbes May Impact Artery Health
Researchers are learning how dietary choices may be causing damage to the arteries as people age.
JUL 14, 2020
Cardiology
Changing Your Doctor Can Cause Confusion in Your Chart
JUL 14, 2020
Changing Your Doctor Can Cause Confusion in Your Chart
Nowadays, many people’s lifestyle sees them move on to better pastures every few years. Staying in one place is no ...
SEP 23, 2020
Cannabis Sciences
Hemp Seeds May Reduce Heart Disease Risk
SEP 23, 2020
Hemp Seeds May Reduce Heart Disease Risk
Heart disease is the leading cause of death around the world. And it seems that many methods to avoid it involve lifesty ...
OCT 14, 2020
Immunology
Happiness Linked to Heart Attack Risk
OCT 14, 2020
Happiness Linked to Heart Attack Risk
Asking patients questions about their personal lives could predict their future risk of a heart attack. A study, publish ...
OCT 12, 2020
Cardiology
Pig Hearts Might be Used in Human Transplants by the End of 2021
OCT 12, 2020
Pig Hearts Might be Used in Human Transplants by the End of 2021
A major problem in the transplant field is a lack of healthy donor organs. For many years, scientists in the field of re ...
Loading Comments...