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Your Environment. Your Health.

Distinguished Lecturer Seminar Series

Superfund Research Program

The SRP Distinguished Lecturer Seminar Series began in May 2002 as a communications initiative to highlight cutting-edge science being conducted by Program investigators. The SRP encourages students and scientists of all disciplines, both within and external to NIEHS, to attend the seminars and meet with the lecturers.


PCBs, Nutrition, and Endothelial Cell Function: Implications in Atherosclerosis(285KB)


Bernhard Hennig , Ph.D.

Presented by:
Bernhard Hennig, Ph.D., R.D.
SRP Distinguished Lecturer
Director, University of Ketucky Superfund Research Program


July 14, 2011; 3:00 - 4:00pm ET
Rodbell B Auditorium


Epidemiological studies support the hypothesis that pathologies of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, are linked to environmental pollution. There is also evidence linking the arylhydrocarbon receptor (AhR) with mechanisms associated with cardiovascular diseases and that AhR ligands such as coplanar PCBs may be atherogenic by disrupting the functions of endothelial cells in blood vessels. Because PCBs are in general very persistent and proinflammatory, life-long exposure to these pollutants may fuel vascular inflammation and the pathology of atherosclerosis. The University of Kentucky Superfund Research Center is exploring the paradigm that nutrition can modulate environmental insults in the vasculature, and Hennig's group focuses on vascular endothelial cell dysfunction induced by exposure to PCBs. Nutrition can dictate the lipid milieu, oxidative stress, and antioxidant status within cells. The modulation of these parameters through diets may influence the effects of environmental pollutants on vascular dysfunctions and related pathologies. For example, certain dietary fats may increase the risk to environmental insults induced by PCBs, while fruits and vegetables, rich in antioxidant and anti-inflammatory nutrients or bioactive compounds, may provide protection. We have demonstrated that diet-derived lipids and bioactive compounds can alter oxidative stress and the cellular antioxidant status, and thus modulate mechanisms of endothelial cytotoxicity mediated by PCBs. We also have evidence that plasma membrane microdomains called caveolae play an important role in endothelial activation and toxicity mediated by coplanar PCBs. Caveolae are particularly abundant in endothelial cells and play a major role in endothelial trafficking and the regulation of signaling pathways associated with the pathology of vascular diseases. There is a great need to further explore this nutritional paradigm in environmental toxicology and to improve our understanding of the relationship between nutrition and lifestyle, exposure to environmental toxicants and disease. Our projects are nicely integrated with our Community Engagement and Research Translation Cores that have reached out to numerous communities, including a few living near PCB-contaminated Superfund Sites, to teach about the importance of diet for overall health and protection against exposure to pollutants. Nutritional interventions may provide the most sensible means to develop primary prevention strategies of diseases associated with many environmental toxic insults.