Vascular Epigenetics Lab
Our group aims at understanding the involvement of epigenetics in the development of vascular diseases, by studying new molecular pathways that regulate vascular smooth muscle and endothelial cell biology and in which DNA methylation, histone modifications, and non-coding RNAs expression play a major role.
All vascular pathologies belong to the vast category of cardiovascular diseases (CVDs), that are responsible for 31% of global deaths and constitute and are the main cause of death and disability worldwide. Regardless of the specific vascular pathology, altered genes expression – and thus epigenetic mechanisms – are central to disease initiation and progression. Although current knowledge regarding epigenetic mechanisms in CVD development is still limited, the dramatic improvement in DNA and RNA sequencing capacity has accelerated our ability to detail the complex epigenetic landscapes of multiple pathological contexts, paving the way to the translation of the first discoveries to the clinic.
Main research areas
Non-coding RNAs in vascular cell biology
Early work conducted at the University of California, San Diego, was the first to demonstrate that small non-coding RNAs (namely, miR-143 and miR-145) are necessary for maintaining the contractile phenotype of vascular smooth cells (VSMCs) and, thus, regulate vascular tone and functionality in pathological conditions. This finding was fundamental in seeding the new concept of the centrality of these cells in cardiovascular disease development and for the recent discoveries that miRNAs also act as communication molecules, modulating vascular endothelial cell and macrophage functionalities by migrating directly from one cell type to another.
Epigenetics and vascular diseases
We are interested in how pathological stimuli alter gene expression through chromatin remodeling and how such mechanisms are involved in vascular disease development. We recently identified two proteins that play a key role in vascular smooth muscle cells biology leveraging on epigenetics mechanisms: a DNA methylation reader that plays a fundamental role in the regulation of VSMCs plasticity both in physiology and in vascular disease, and a gene transcription regulator that appears to play a key role in vascular inflammation.