SPUR 2019: Biological signatures of blueberry-derived microbial metabolites

Background

The research in our laboratory is focused on identifying the molecular mechanisms by which blueberry-derived microbial metabolites improve endothelial dysfunction during metabolic syndrome (MetS). MetS is an important risk factor for cardiovascular mortality and endothelial dysfunction plays a major role in the development of vascular complications. Intact glycocalyx of healthy vasculature acts as a protective barrier and prevents endothelial dysfunction. Glycocalyx, importantly heparan sulfate proteoglycan (HSPG), is severely compromised in MetS. Hence, preservation and restoration of HSPG to improve endothelial dysfunction is a novel strategy to ameliorate vascular complications in MetS.

Human studies support the vascular effects of blueberry anthocyanins. Anthocyanins are extensively metabolized by the gut microbiota in humans, suggesting their vascular benefits might be mediated by their microbial metabolites. Our studies show that: blueberry supplementation improves vascular inflammation and dysfunction, and increases the beneficial bacteria in diabetic mice; and key blueberry metabolites attenuate palmitate or diabetes-induced endothelial inflammation (Mol Nutr Food Res, 2018; Int J Cardiol, 2018). We hypothesize that blueberry attenuates endothelial dysfunction in MetS by improving HSPG and/or acting on multiple targets which is mediated through the microbial metabolites of blueberries. We will use physiologically relevant models, comics approach and state of the art techniques to evaluate the mechanistic roles of metabolites of blueberries. Our study will provide strong scientific rationale for recommending dietary intake of blueberries to improve vascular health in the US population and worldwide.

Student Role

The major emphasis on the student’s training will have three aspects:

  1. Developing competence in conducting research: The student will be involved in a study that is focused on identifying the role of blueberries and their metabolites on vascular complications in diabetes. Specifically, they will be involved in the following:
    1. Animal study - Measuring blood glucose, blood lipids and blood pressure; assessing vascular inflammation; and measuring inflammatory markers.
    2. Cell culture study - Culturing human aortic endothelial cells, treating the endothelial cells with blueberry metabolites, analyzing endothelial glycocalyx, assessing protein and mRNA expressions of biomarkers related to endothelial glycocalyx.
  2. Analyzing Data: The student will assist in analyzing data and quantifying results using SPSS software (specifically t- test and ANOVA).
  3. Developing additional skills in writing scientific abstracts/manuscripts, and presenting the research data at the lab meeting, seminars in other departments and at national scientific meetings such as Experimental Biology.

Student Learning Outcomes & Benefits

During this training, the student will develop skills in research techniques, writing scientific manuscripts, and presenting research data in conferences. This will serve as a foundation for his/her career. The carefully designed research training plan will enhance the student’s skills as an emerging scientist.

Anandh Babu Pon Velayutham
Assistant Professor

Nutrition & Integrative Physiology
College of Health

I believe one of the best equalities as a mentor is to create an environment that motivates the mentee to learn and provides a place where the mentee can immerse themselves in the research project. The environment should also build confidence in the mentee so that they can better express themselves regardless of their level of mastery. I believe enthusiasm and constant encouragement will create such an environment. My central goal is to empower the mentee in their education by providing exciting research opportunities. In my research, I aim to evoke excitement of discovery and achievement. I devote the necessary time to training and directing individual members of the laboratory. I interact with the individual on a daily basis to review data, address research questions, and design future experiments. This is complemented with a weekly two-hour interdepartmental lab meeting, where a student makes a formal presentation of his/her current or proposed work, which fosters critical thinking and interaction between lab members and develops their communication skills.