Important research finding

10 August 2014        

Lab gear

Researchers funded by us at the University of Leeds have discovered how endothelial cells in mice, which line the inside of blood vessels, detect the flow of blood.

This research could lead to important developments in treatments to prevent cardiovascular disease.

Healthy blood vessels are vital to prevent people having heart attacks and strokes. Responding to changes in the flow of blood is an essential part in keeping blood vessels healthy. These changes are common in people with cardiovascular disease and cancer. Knowing how endothelial cells detect and respond to these changes could be an important part in staving off disease.

Discovering the elusive Piezo1

It has long been known that endothelial cells are reactive to blood flow, but up until now, just how they detect it has remained a mystery. Thanks to your donations Professor David Beech and his team at the University of Leeds have discovered how a protein, called Piezo1, provides endothelial cells with a sensor to detect changes in flow.

Professor David Beech, of the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds, who led the research, said: “Blood vessel networks are not already pre-constructed but emerge rather like a river system. Vessels do not develop until the blood is already flowing and they are created in response to the amount of flow. This gene, Piezo1, provides the instructions for sensors that tell the body that blood is flowing correctly and gives the signal to form new vessel structures.

Paving the way for future treatments

Knowing about this mechanism will help researchers to investigate the process further, and hopefully work out how Piezo1 reacts in diseased blood vessels. This could help in the development of medicines to prevent cardiovascular disease.

Our Associate Medical Director, Professor Jeremy Pearson, said: "Blood flow has a major effect on the health of the arteries it passes through. Arteries are more likely to become diseased in areas where the flow is disturbed, for example. This is because the endothelial cells lining the arteries are exquisitely sensitive to this flow and their response to changes can lead to disease, where the artery becomes narrowed and can eventually cause a heart attack.

Through further research we hope to see whether a treatment can be developed


"Until now, very little has been known about the process by which blood flow affects endothelial cells. This exciting discovery, in mice, tells us that a protein in those cells – Piezo1 – could be critical in detecting and responding to changes in blood flow.

"Through further research, using this knowledge, we hope to see whether a treatment can be developed that targets this process to prevent the development of disease in healthy arteries."

The research was published today in the journal Nature.

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