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Temple: AHA-funded Study Explores How and Why Exercise Leads to Health Benefits

It’s well known that exercise can improve a person’s health: weight management, mood improvement, and heart disease prevention are common outcomes for regular exercise. But though these effects are documented, scientists don’t exactly know how and why regular exercise can produce these outcomes. In an effort to better understand exercise and heart disease prevention on a molecular level, postdoctoral fellow Dr. Junchul Shin is embarking on a research project with two-year, $110,000 funding from the American Heart Association (AHA).

Dr. Shin, a third-year fellow in kinesiology associate professor Dr. Joon Young Park’s Cardiovascular Genomics Laboratory, plans to examine the molecular mechanism through which blood vessels form new capillaries, a process known as vascular formation. Dr. Shin will test whether low levels of oxygen after exercise induce the blood vessel molecules to form new capillaries, since people who exercise regularly have been shown to have a greater density of capillaries. “If there’s a density of capillary, there are greater health benefits,” says Dr. Shin. “We know that vessels are made through exercise. Researchers believe that density is related to hypertension, and increased density might decrease blood pressure.”  

The specific vascular molecules targeted in Dr. Shin’s study are HIF 1 alpha (short for “hypoxia-inducible factor 1”)  and PHD2 (“prolyl hydoxylase domain 2”). Using an animal model involving mice, Dr. Shin will test if HIF 1 alpha activates and triggers blood vessel growth when PHD2 is dormant. Shin believes that PHD2’s inactivation is key to vascular formation, since it is known that PHD2 becomes dormant when the body is in a low-oxygen state — which is believed to be a common, temporary effect of exercise.

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