Project I

PVAT has been narrowly viewed as a tissue that feeds information to the blood vessel through secretions and homing of immune cells; this is ‘outside-in’ communication and has been considered a passive function of PVAT.

We hypothesize that to maintain the homeostasis so critical to tissue health, there must be an ‘inside-out’ communication from the formally accepted vessel layers – intima, media, adventitia – to the PVAT that is mechanical in nature.


Project I overall hypothesis is that PVAT mechanically coordinates with the blood vessel in control of vascular tone, contributing to (patho)physiological function.

Our first hypothesis is that pressure is transmitted to PVAT through mechanosensitive elements (Aim 1). Of all the adipose tissues in the body, PVAT is primed to be mechanoresponsive because it is exposed to constant, cyclical pressure.

Our second hypothesis is that PVAT has a dynamic mechanical stiffness of its own that reduces vascular stiffness in health (Aim 2). We stand to redefine what is the formal blood vessel with this new knowledge.

Project I Team

Stephanie Watts

Full Professor, Dept of Pharmacology and Toxicology
Director of the PPG, Project I Leader, Core A Leader

Director of Project I. Stephanie’s contribution is to bring the smaller and seemingly disparate pieces of information into a larger, integrated picture. She also helps us stay connected to the other projects of this PPG effort, helping to feed information to and from such that the science of all projects informs that of the others.

Sara Roccabianca

Associate Professor, Dept of Mechanical Engineering
Project I Co-Leader, Project IV Collaborator

Sara is the head engineer of this project (!) and provides the knowledge needed to think about PVAT as a tissue that should be considered mechanically. She was and is essential to thinking about PVAT in this novel way.

Teresa Krieger-Burke

Assistant Prof, Dept of Pharmacology and Toxicology, In Vivo Facility Director
Project I Collaborator, Core D Collaborator

Dr. Krieger-Burke will facilitate measurement of pulse wave velocity and other whole animal measures important to the PPG.

Caitlin Wilson

Graduate Student
Project I Member

Caitlin joined the Watts lab in 2022 and will perform her PhD research with us. She is dedicated to: understanding mechanisms of stretch relaxation (molecules responsible) and building with Core D and the Roccabianca lab an instrument that reproducibly measures tissue deformation.

Dillon McClintock

Graduate Student
Project I member

Dillon is a graduate student in the Roccabianca lab. She is a critical part of the team building, with Core D, a new instrument that will allow us to reproducibly measure deformation and thus have a solid platform on which to build our mechanistic experiments.

Janice M. Thompson

Research Associate
Project I Member

Long term research associate of the Watts lab. Janice is dedicated to Western analyses (she excels at protein work), small vessel work +/-PVAT and RT-PCR. Her long terms knowledge of this lab and of MSU helps us be better in everything we do.

Emma D. Flood

Research Associate
Project I Member

Emma, as a research associate in the Watts lab, is focused on architectural contributions of proteins to PVAT structure and function, as well as the effects of stretch on PVAT function. She is astoundingly positive and brings much color to our laboratory.

Integration with other projects

Project I is purposefully crafted to be at the center of this PPG application. By studying the whole tissue, it integrates knowledge of the neurohumoral (Project II), immune (Project III) and adipocyte potential (Project IV) into a working model.

Project I and III will work together to understand the functional impact an active (stretched) immune cell community and its environment has on the two new mechanisms studied by Project I, PVAT mechanotransduction and stiffness. Similarly, the impact of stretch on the fate of adipocyte progenitors (Project IV) parallels Project I’s commitment to understanding the effect of stretch on PVAT mechanical functioning.

We NEED our cores!

  • Core B (animal) provides all models our group uses.
  • Core C provides feedback information learned from experiments in other Projects to inform us of particular molecules/cell types we should consider in mechanotransduction and stiffness experiments.
  • Core D (microscopy) helps us take expert images.


Contreras GA, Yang Y, Flood ED, Garver H, Bhattacharya S, Fink GD, Watts SW. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2020 Dec 1;319(6):H1313-H1324. doi: 10.1152/ajpheart.00332.2020. Epub 2020 Oct 2. PMID: 33006918 ...