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Stephanie Watts, Ph.D.

Professor, Pharmacology & Toxicology

Undergraduate Minor Director

Dr. Stephanie Watts
B445 Life Sciences Building
1355 Bogue Street
East Lansing, MI 48824

Email: wattss@msu.edu

Phone: (517) 353-3724 | Fax: (517) 353-8915 | Location:  B445 Life Sciences

Fields of Interest: Our laboratory focuses on vascular smooth muscle pharmacology, physiology and function.

The Two Faces of Serotonin PDF    |    Watts Lab - Infographic PDF

  • 1983-88 - B.S., Advanced Chemistry, The University of Illinois
  • 1988-92 - Ph.D., Pharmacology & Toxicology, Indiana University
  • 1992-95 - Postdoctoral Fellow, Physiology, The University of Michigan
  • 1995-00 - Assistant Professor, Pharmacology & Toxicology, Michigan State University
  • 2000-05 - Associate Professor, Pharmacology & Toxicology, Michigan State University
  • 2005-present - Professor, Pharmacology & Toxicology, Michigan State University
  • 2008-present - Assistant Dean, The Graduate School, Michigan State University

Welcome! Our laboratory focuses on vascular smooth muscle pharmacology, physiology and function. Our reasons for focusing on the vasculature are many, but include the important fact that the vasculature is involved in numerous cardiovascular diseases. For example, hypertension affects approximately 20-30% of the world's population, and hypertension continues to be a killer because it places individuals at a higher risk for heart disease, stroke and kidney failure. Obesity is comorbid (comes together with) hypertension, and is a vexing problem for the world. Our laboratory is dedicated towards understanding the mechanisms by which the vasculature contributes to hypertension, obesity and obesity associated hypertension. We have a history of investigating 'non-classical' pathways or signal transduction mechanisms for smooth muscle contraction. For example, 5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT has long been disputed as having the ability to alter blood vessel tone in vitro and elevated blood pressure (create a hypertension); we have found 5-HT given in vivo decreases blood pressure and does in unexpected ways. Our other two projects are related (but independent, too!) how adipose tissue can change how a blood vessel functions, such that blood pressure is modified. Given the serious problem of obesity today, these projects are translationally relevant. Importantly, we have the opportunity to study human tissue in most of these projects, so we can at least test if some of our findings in the rat (our primary model) are also observed in the human.

Our current three projects (Fall 2015)

  1. Role of 5-HT (serotonin, 5-hydroxytryptamine) in control of normal arterial tone and blood pressure
  2. Function of perivascular adipose tissue (PVAT) in blood vessel function in conditions of obesity: existence of an adrenergic system within PVAT
  3. Role of the peptide chemerin in connecting obesity to blood pressure; chemerin as a vasoconstrictor

We use a multi-faceted technical and integrated approach towards studying these diseases so as to understand the mechanism from a molecular to a whole animal level. My goal for a student is that they have, in their hands, a set of integrative techniques when they leave the lab such that they can explore pharmacological studies in a thoughtful, interrogative manner. Techniques in our lab include: isolated tissue bath system to measure smooth muscle contraction, myograph to measure small artery contraction, Western analyses and protein work, real time RT-PCR, Super Arrays (mRNA pathways), pathway mapping based on gene arrays, HPLC, immunohistochemistry, immunocytochemistry, cell culture, kinase assays, oxidase assays, animal surgery, blood pressure measurement, ultrasound imaging of the circulatory system and, of course, pharmacology!

We are fortunate that our laboratory works closely with a number of other laboratories in the department (labs of Drs Fink, Galligan, Jackson, Dorrance and Neubig), and our students benefit tremendously for the collegial and exciting exchanges and progress made by our laboratories, collectively.

Current Projects (and the questions we want to answer)

  1. Do adrenergic systems exist in PVAT (Is PVAT a sink for catecholamines?) Why? Can PVAT catecholamines change vascular tone, and does their role change in states of obesity and hypertension? Do changes CONTRIBUTE to the disease?
  2. By what mechanisms do 5-HT cause blood pressure to fall and can 5-HT reduce hypertension? Could therapeutics targeted to 5-HT receptors that reduce blood pressure be developed?
  3. How does chemerin play a role in blood pressure determination? Does chemerin directly interact with the sympathetic nervous system to change blood pressure? What happens to blood pressure when chemerin is removed?

Editorial Boards

  • American Journal of Physiology: Heart, Lung and Circulatory
  • American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative
  • Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology
  • Current Reviews of Hypertension
  • Frontiers in Vascular Physiology, Associate Editor
  • Molecular and Cellular Pharmacology (charter member, 2008)
  • Pharmacological Research, US Associate Editor
  • Pharmacological Reviews, Associate Editor


  • PhRMA Research Starter Award, 1998-2000
  • PhRMA Faculty Development Award, 1998-2000
  • Young Scholar Award, American Society of Hypertension, 2001
  • Established Investigator of the American Heart Association, 2002
  • Established Investigator of the American Heart Association, 2002
  • Howard Hughes Medical Investigator Nominee, Michigan State University, 2004
  • Bowditch Awardee of American Physiological Society, 2008 (Outstanding Research under age of 42)
  • Dahl Lecture Awardee of Council for High Blood Pressure Research AHA, 2012
  • Member, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association Foundation (PhRMA) Basic Pharmacology Research Advisory Board, 2001-present
  • Pharmacology Study Section, NIH 2002-2004
  • Charter Member of Hypertension and Microbiology Study Section, NIH, NHLBI October 2004, 2004-2008
  • American Physiological Society, CV Section Nominating Committee, 2004-2007
  • ASPET Centennial Celebration Planning Committee, 2004-2008
  • Chair, ASPET Graduate Recruitment and Education Committee, 2005-2007
  • Vice-Chair, Hypertension Summer School, Maritime Academy in Maine, 2005
  • Chair, Hypertension 2007 Summer School (Ft. Collins, CO)
  • Chair, Trainee Advocacy committee, CHBPR , 2005-2007
  • Leadership of Council for High Blood Pressure research, 2005-2007, 2009.
  • Chair of Keystone Conference "Dissecting the Vasculature", held Feb 2009, Vancouver.
  • Chair, NIH ZRG CVS-F (90S), AED.
  • NIH RIBT Study Section (00201468), AHA SURF Peer Review Chair, NIH ZRG1 VH-D (58)R
  • Scientific review groups (2009); NIH RFA and F fellowship review committees (2010).
  • AHA National Research Committee (2009)
  • ASPET Cardiovascular Division Chair Elect (2011), Chair (2013)
  • NIH CICS Study Section (standing member)
  • AHA Council on Hypertension Leadership Committee, ad hoc, 2015
  • AHA Council on Hypertension fall program committee, 2014
  • American Society of Hypertension program committee, 2014-2016
  • Keystone Scientific Advisory Board, Ad Hoc, 2015-present

Full list of publications on: MSU Scholars

5-HT Project

  • Watts, S. W., Darios, E., Seitz, B. M., Burnett, R and Thompson, J. M.: 5-HT is a potent relaxant in rat superior mesenteric arteries? Pharmacology Research and Perspectives, e00103.doi:10.1102/prp2.103, 2015.
  • Darios, E.S., Barman, S. M., Orer, H. S., Morrison, S. F., Davis, R. P, Seitz, B. M., Burnett, R. and Watts, S. W.: 5-hydroxytryptamine does not reduce sympathetic nerve activity of neuroeffector function in the splanchnic circulation, Eur. J Pharmacol, 754:140-147, 2015.
  • Seitz, B. M. and Watts, S. W.: Serotonin-induced hypotension is mediated by a decrease in intestinal resistance, Pharmacologica, 5(2): 50-54. 2014.

Chemerin Project

  • Watts SW, Dorrance AM, Penfold ME, Rourke JL, Sinal CJ, Seitz B, Sullivan TJ, Charvat TT, Thompson JM, Burnett R and Fink GD: Chemerin connects fat to arterial contraction. Art. Thromb. Vasc. Biol, 33:1320-1328, 2013.
  • Ferland D.J. and Watts, S. W.: Chemerin: A comprehensive review elucidating the need for cardiovascular research. Pharmacol. Res. 99:351-361, 2015.
  • PVAT and Adrenergic Systems Project

  • Ayala-Lopez, N, Martini M, Jackson W F, Darios E, Burnett R, Mahon B, Fink, G. D. and Watts, S. W.: Perivascular adipose tissue contains functional catecholamines. Pharmacology Research and Perspectives, Volume 2, Issue 3, June 2014.

Additional articles on PubMed