Maria Paula Longhi

Maria Paula Longhi

Host Organisation: 

William Harvey Research Institute, QMUL

Short biography

I have a BSc in Biochemistry (Universidad de Buenos Aires) and a PhD in immunology (Cardiff University). In 2006, I joined the laboratory of Ralph Steinman at the Rockefeller University, where I studied the cellular processes associated with dendritic cell maturation. In 2013, I joined the William Harvey Research Institute with the aim of investigating the metabolic changes required for dendritic cell maturation in health and disease. I completed my CASCADE-FELLOWS fellowship in October 2016 and have now been awarded a BHF project grant to investigate the role of dendritic cells in adipose tissue. In 2017, I anticipate the publication of the work supported by this and the BHF fellowship.

Brief description of research project

Obesity is an escalating global health problem. Obesity puts individuals at higher risk of developing several comorbidities such as cardiovascular disease, type-II diabetes, and hypertension. Atherosclerosis is a condition in which plaques formed by lipid deposition and cells, build up inside the arteries. Over the past years it has become apparent that white blood cells can become activated and infiltrate the plaque as people become obese, contributing to the occlusion of the artery and the development of atherosclerosis. This work aimed to understand how a specific white blood cell called dendritic cell can promote plaque formation and artery inflammation. We found that during atherosclerosis Dendritic cells infiltrate the plaque and become activated. In order to survive low oxygen tension and high inflammatory mediators within the plaque, dendritic cells activate a gene known as hypoxia inducible factor (Hif1α). This gene changes the metabolism of the cells allowing them to fulfil their immune function under such harsh environment. This metabolic adaptation promotes plaque inflammation and atherosclerosis. Drugs to manipulate Hif1α activation are being tested for cancer treatment in patients. The results from this project suggest a new and feasible therapeutic approach for the treatment of atherosclerosis.