The role of Notch in Endothelial Cell Survival and Apoptosis

Cardiovascular disease is a leading cause of death worldwide. Some people are born with a heart defect, while others develop atherosclerosis — a build up of waxy plaque in the blood vessels which results in the narrowing of the arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. The thin layer of cells that line the blood vessels and heart chamber are called endothelial cells. These cells are vulnerable to injury and/or death due to the constant exposure to injurious agents in the blood such as bacterial and viral particles, homocysteine — an amino acid associated with heart disease, and high blood glucose resulting from diabetes. It is when these endothelial cells become injured or die, that cardiovascular disease occurs or worsens. Continuing the work she began with her MSFHR-funded Master’s research, Linda Ya-ting Chang is studying the function of a particular family of proteins called Notch, in the survival of endothelial cells. Two proteins known to protect against death in other cells show increased activity when Notch is present. Chang is investigating whether the same protection is seen with endothelial cells, and how Notch proteins increase the rate of cell survival. The long-term goal is to identify molecules that protect endothelial cells from injury, lessening the progression of atherosclerosis and congenital heart disease, and potentially reducing the risk of heart attack and stroke.