August 19, 1999


FORT WORTH, Texas -- The old saying that people don’t use their brains to exercise is being tested through research at the University of North Texas Health Science Center. Peter B. Raven, Ph.D., chair of the department of integrative physiology at the UNT Health Science Center, has been awarded a four year $950,000 grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for related work.

Researchers have known that blood pressure is regulated by brain activity. Also during exercise, they have found that muscle activity modulates what the brain tells the heart to do. Dr. Raven’s research is working to prove that the brain resets the baroreflexes, which are a collection of sensory nerve endings specialized to monitor changes in blood pressure. The impulses from the muscle reflexes reach the brain so heart rate and blood vessels can adjust appropriately during exercise.

The research will involve measuring the interactions between the brain and the muscles. Altering muscle activity during the exercise will help researchers determine how much brain power is needed to perform the work.

According to Dr. Raven, certain drugs may hinder brain responses during exercise, therefore causing the brain to fail to respond appropriately.

"What’s known as a ‘blood brain barrier’ may be playing a role with the interaction of certain drugs and exercise," said Dr. Raven. "Data obtained through this research has the potential to change the way doctors use exercise as a therapy, particularly in individuals with certain health problems."

Clinical faculty at the health science center will be working with Dr. Raven and colleagues to evaluate the use of drugs during exercise to help determine if these drugs affect the brain responses.

With the awarding of this grant, Dr. Raven and his researchers will now be funded by the NIH for 20 years for their work in showing how the brain is involved in the cardiovascular responses to exercise.

Dr. Raven’s research grant is just part of the reason for the increased health science center figures in the recent Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board report on Expenditures for Research and Other Sponsored Projects. The percentage of increase the UNT Health Science Center has experienced in Research & Development since 1995 is the highest in the state of Texas — an increase of 62 percent. The average among the state is just under 20 percent, and the next highest after the UNT Health Science Center is at 37 percent.