Alicia Pate Recognized by American Journal of Physiology for Study on Hypertension in Women

Published on 24 October 2019

The American Journal of Physiology recently selected an article co-authored by Alicia Pate, Ph.D., assistant professor of anatomy/physiology at St. Louis College of Pharmacy, for addition to its monthly collection of Best Research Articles. The piece highlighted Pate’s work with a research team at St. Louis University (SLU) to examine a peptide that affects blood pressure, appetite and other health conditions.

The study looked at how sex hormones change the effects of the peptide, resulting in significant differences between male and female specimens. It also determined that the variation in female subjects was dependent on their hormonal cycles. Pate’s research team discovered that estrogen provides protection against the hypertension effects of the peptide, possibly leaving pregnant women with preeclampsia and postmenopausal women vulnerable.

“To date, most of the research on this peptide has been done on male rodents, and the few studies that have examined female populations have not included the timing of the estrus cycle, so the levels of estrogen and progesterone in these subjects were unknown,” Pate explained. “By conducting more sex-specific research utilizing female rodents, we’ve learned that in most cases, estrogen and progesterone provide protective effects for the peptide. This has possible implications for pregnant women suffering with preeclampsia and also postmenopausal women who produce lower levels of estrogen.”

Pate notes that sex-specific research is a relatively new concept in many scientific circles. Only in recent years has the Food and Drug Administration required that therapeutics be tested on female subjects as well as males in clinical studies, and that the data be analyzed by sex. Pate explains that many currently available therapeutics were tested on mostly male subjects, meaning that their effects on female populations are not fully known or analyzed.

“This is a big part of why we see differences in medication side effects between men and women,” Pate explained. “We’re learning that hormones affect every aspect of the body, and for women, hormone levels vary widely, depending on age and menstrual cycles. By conducting tests on female specimens, and checking their hormone levels with each test, our research can lead to better therapeutics that are more effective and pose less of a risk to women.”

In addition to the peptide’s effects on blood pressure, Pate notes that it is also connected to regulating appetite and has mental health implications that affect men and women differently, though more research needs to be done in those areas.

“We can’t entirely understand what is happening in the cells until we find the receptor for this peptide,” Pate explains. “The receptor is the next step, and once that is found, many avenues for new possible therapeutics will open up that can help women dealing with hypertension during pregnancy or menopause and other health effects.”

As researchers at SLU continue their efforts to isolate the receptor and gather more information about the peptide, Pate is expanding her work with sex-specific research alongside College faculty at the Center for Clinical Pharmacology.

Pate is currently collaborating with College faculty member Ream Al-Hasani, Ph.D., assistant professor, pharmaceutical science at the College and assistant professor of anesthesiology at the Washington University School of Medicine.

“The lab at the center is perfect for my work because researchers there do all of their experiments with male and female specimens,” Pate explained. “I have experience in pain research, and I reached out to Dr. Al-Hasani to gauge her interest in teasing out the sex-specific differences in how the brain responds to pain, and she invited me to collaborate with her lab. The College is expanding research across campus, and I’m looking forward to doing more work with this cutting-edge community of scientists.”

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