Pezzulo, Comellas examine airway cell “memory” with new NIH grant

Alejandro A Pezzulo, MD, assistant professor in Pulmonary, Critical Care and Occupational Medicine, and Alejandro Comellas, MD, clinical professor in Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Occupational Medicine, received a five-year, $2.8M R01 grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. With this funding, Pezzulo and Comellas will determine the mechanisms by which transient lung inflammation common in people with asthma induces changes in stem cells which then go on to affect long-term function of the epithelia that line the airways.

The DNA of human cells and the proteins that organize it can acquire chemical “epigenetic” changes that affect how genes are regulated.

“The types of epigenetic changes acquired by airway stem cells in response to inflammation are known; however, whether these changes persist upon cell division and differentiation or are “reset”, and how they go on to affect epithelial function long-term is unclear,” Pezzulo said.

Titled “Epigenetic mechanisms of inflammatory memory propagation in human airway epithelia,” the study will explore these questions. Pezzulo and Comellas will combine their expertise in epithelial biology, computational biology, and clinical research.

This project is enabled by the CCOM Cells and Tissue Core and the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Iowa RDP Bioinformatics Core, which Pezzulo co-directs with Joseph Zabner and Paul McCray, and the Iowa Institute for Clinical and Translational Science Clinical Research Unit, which Comellas directs.

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