Department of Physiology

Near the Top!

We take pride in having a long tradition as an outstanding workplace at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center in Memphis. Our department has maintained annual budgets of over 15 million dollars and based on such funding in 2011 and 2012, the American Physiological Society ranked our department 2th in the country.It is an extraordinary accomplishment for our team during shrinking state and federal budgets. I congratulate all of my colleagues, staff, and students on this occasion and ask them to continue their dedication to their work.

Our faculty provide distinguished service on many editorial boards (American Journal of Physiology, Biochimica et Biophysica Acta, Journal of Biological Chemistry, Circulation Research, Atheroscleorsis Thrombosos and Vascular Biology), NIH Study Sections, and organizing committees of prestigious national and international meetings (Experimental Biology, FASEB Summer Conferences, International Conference on Eicosanoids and Lipid Mediators). Among our emeritus faculty, Profs. Clark Blatteis and Lester Van Middlesworth are University Distinguished Professors. Prof., Blatteis has recently been recognized by the Living History Project of the American Physiological Sciences. Our faculty also include the Associate Executive Vice Chancellor for Research, the Vice Chancellor for Faculty and Academic Affairs, the Dean of the Graduate College, and the Associate Dean of the Faculty Affairs for the College of Medicine. In addition, we have three endowed professorships: the Harriet S. Van Vleet Chair (Prof. Gabor Tigyi), the Thomas A. Gerwin Professorship (Prof. Leonard R. Johnson), and the Maury R. Bronstein Professorship (Prof. Jonathan Jaggar).

Cardiovascular Research

Cardiovascular research related to hypertension, stroke, diabetes, and atherosclerosis: Scientists in our Department are investigating factors that regulate blood circulation with a particular focus on blood flow in the brain. The brain requires a constant flow of oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood to function. Although conditions such as hypertension, stroke, diabetes mellitus, and atherosclerosis can lead to debilitating damage to the brain, knowledge of mechanisms that regulate the brain circulation and pathological alterations that lead to disease are poorly understood. We employ imaging techniques that allow investigation of intact cerebral circulation, intact neurovascular units in brain slices, and specific brain cell types in culture. In particular, we use microscopic imaging techniques to visualize the intact, live microcirculation, and measure local and global cellular calcium signals in brain and vascular cells using fluorescent indicators and rapid laser-scanning confocal microscopy. Our studies aim to provide a better understanding of physiological mechanisms that regulate brain blood flow and pathological alterations that can lead to diseases, including stroke. Additional capabilities provided by two-photon confocal microscopy will allow us to study regulation of the cerebral circulation using new in vivo approaches.

Pulmonary Research

Pulmonary research related to asthma, acute respiratory distress syndrome, and lung injury and repair: One of the primary functions of the lungs is to deliver oxygen to the blood and remove carbon dioxide. Investigators in the Department of Physiology utilize several imaging approaches to investigate lung diseases in which this gas exchange is compromised. Diseases such as asthma cause obstruction of air flow through inflammatory mechanisms and remodeling of airways. We use microfocal X-ray imaging to visualize changes in airway opening, and we use laser-scanning confocal microscopy to study cellular signaling pathways that may be changed in lung cells. Pneumonia, sepsis, and other types of lung injury can lead to a life threatening condition known as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). In ARDS cellular barriers between the airspace and the blood break down, and the airspace becomes flooded leading to compromised gas exchange. We use laser-scanning confocal microscopy to visualize both isolated whole lungs and cultured cells in order to examine specific cellular functions, signaling pathways, and repair processes. Our research is directed toward better understanding the cause of these diseases as well as the development of novel treatment strategies.

Gastrointestinal Research

Gastrointestinal research related to infectious diarrhea, inflammatory bowel disease, and colon cancer: The hostile environment of the gut lumen contains toxins, allergens, and pathogens that constantly challenge the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Therefore, the GI tract is equipped with a very sophisticated defense system that includes secretion and mucosal barrier function. Perturbation of this defense system can lead to GI tissue injury. Indeed, such breach in the secretory and barrier defense is known to play a role in the pathogenesis of GI diseases such as infectious enterocolitis, inflammatory bowel diseases, and colon cancer. Understanding the mechanisms that regulate the different elements of GI mucosal homeostasis is crucial to our understanding of the GI diseases at the cellular and molecular level and to develop new therapeutic strategies. Scientists in our Department are engaged in research to understand the mechanism of GI secretion and barrier function by utilizing the state-of-the-art cellular and molecular approaches. These studies require the use of confocal microscopy and other live-cell imaging techniques to track the dynamic distribution of specific protein molecules of the membrane channels and cellular junctions in health and disease. Our research in this area is focused on discovering the clues to develop new therapeutics for the treatment of GI diseases. We are engaged in drug discovery to protect the gut and hematopoietic system from radiation injury. One of our investigators received a multi-million dollar Grand Opportunity grant from NIH to test their lead radiomitigator compound in non-human primates.

The Department of Physiology is recognized internally as well as externally. For many years, students have ranked our medical physiology course either at the top or in second place, and they have honored our faculty with the Golden Apple Awards for teaching. We take pride in training our graduate students in courses of study offered through the Integrated Biomedical Sciences Program and the department-based Cell Biology and Physiology program.

Our postdoctoral fellows publish in top-tier journals and successfully move on to take faculty positions or careers in government or private sectors, including Fortune 500 companies such as Pfizer, Serono Inc., and Merck & Co. Recent graduates have taken postdoctoral positions in top research institutions, including Yale, Scripps Research Institute, and Harvard.

The Department of Physiology currently has close to one hundred employees including faculty, staff, and students. We are in the process of hiring new faculty. We are also in the planning stages for the new Translational Science Research Building that will be the new home for our investigators from 2014.

We have recently expanded our shared equipment park with a Zeiss 5 LIVE confocal microscope, which complements the Zeiss 510 PASCAL microscope that we have had for a few years. We now have a new Zeiss 710 NLO Multiphoton microscope as well. We added a new Perkin Elmer Micro Beta counter and TECAN Genios Pro to the list of available equipment.

Our most important asset is the talent of our people who strive to excel in their research and teaching. We aim to recruit world-class talent to the Department of Physiology at UTHSC and remain one of our nation’s top Department of Physiology.

Contact Us

Department of Physiology

894 Union Ave.
Memphis, Tennessee 38163-0000
Phone: 901-448-5034
Fax: 901-448-7126