Ulrike Mende, MD, FAHA
Professor of Medicine, Rhode Island Hospital and Brown University
Dr. Ulrike Mende has a longstanding research interest in the regulation of heart rate, contractile function and extracellular matrix production via G protein-mediated signaling pathways in the healthy and diseased heart. Signal transduction via heterotrimeric G proteins is one of the most important mechanisms of signal transfer across the cell membrane in virtually all cells, including cardiac cells. G proteins act as relay switches that link extracellular signals on the cell surface to changes in ion channel activity and second messenger pathways inside the cell, which in turn elicit changes in cellular function. The research in Dr. Mende’s laboratory focuses on elucidating how perturbations in G proteins and their regulators (Regulators of G protein Signaling or RGS proteins) in cardiac myocytes and fibroblasts contribute to the development of cardiac hypertrophy and fibrosis, heart failure and arrhythmias, with the long-term goal to identify potential new therapeutic targets. Her team conducts gain- and loss-of-function studies in primary heart cell cultures and genetically modified mouse models and uses molecular and biochemical assays to examine gene/protein expression and regulation as well as physiological techniques to assess heart cell and cardiac functions. Current projects in the Mende laboratory include investigations of (i) the regulation of G protein signaling in cardiac fibroblasts and their role in determining the cardiac remodeling response to hemodynamic stress, and (ii) the functional significance and mechanisms of communication between cardiac fibroblasts and myocytes. It is well recognized that the two major cardiac cell types determine the structural, mechanical and electrical characteristics of the heart, but the communication between them is still poorly understood. To that end, the Mende laboratory (in collaboration with other Brown faculty) has been developing novel 2D and 3D co-culture models that mimic key characteristics of cardiac tissue and allow for examination of myocyte-fibroblast communication under defined experimental conditions.