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Scott Johnstone, Ph.D.

Scott Johnstone, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor

Scott Johnstone, Ph.D. headshot

“In the U.S., half of cardiovascular disease patients are less than 60 years old. That means we need to effectively treat patients for many years to maintain vascular health.”

Probing the causes and proliferation of cardiovascular disease

How are healthy blood vessels altered in disease? 

Cardiovascular disease affects over a third of Americans, killing more than 2,000 a day. Understanding how healthy blood vessels are altered in disease and defining pathways to therapeutically target vascular disease is at the core of the Johnstone Lab’s research.

Atherosclerosis is the primary cause of heart disease. The Johnstone Lab focuses on identifying cell signaling pathways, a key regulator of arterial inflammation, that could provide a better understanding of the underlying causes of cardiovascular disease.

Arterial blockages are typically treated by coronary artery bypass surgery or implanting stents to open up blood flow. But as side effect, cells start to divide inside the blood vessel wall, blocking the artery again. The Johnstone Lab aims to identify new pathways that regulate this process to help us understand the disease and develop targeted therapeutics.

Cell-to-cell communication occurs primarily through gap junction channels comprised of connexin proteins which regulate cell functions through direct protein-protein interactions. The Johnstone lab seeks to identify novel pathways for these interactions and ways to manipulate them to disrupt diseased cell functions. The lab is developing a range of peptide-inhibitors which show promise in reducing cell proliferation and for future development to small molecules drugs.

Pannexin channels are a new class of purine which can control multiple cellular and tissue functions. Johnstone’s research pinpoints that pannexin channels control normal physiological processes such as blood vessel tone to pathological vascular inflammation. The lab researches how these proteins are regulated with a goal of identifying channel functions in vascular physiology and pathophysiology.

Johnstone’s lab also works with multiple groups to probe the common pathways for vascular disease, cancer and wound healing, which can be exploited to reduce proliferation in cancer cells and to promote wound healing with reduced scar formation.

  • Assistant Professor, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Biological Sciences, College of Science
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Surgery, Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine

Yang Yang, Leon Delalio, Angela K. Best, Edgar Maccal, Daniela Begandt, Chen-Hsuin Lee, Jenna Milstein, Iona Donnelly, Ashley M. Miller Martin McBride, Xiaohong H. Shu, Michael Koval, Brant E. Isakson and Scott R. Johnstone. Endothelial Pannexin 1 Channels Control Inflammation by Regulating Intracellular Calcium. The J. of Immunol. 2020 Jun 1;204(11):2995-3007. PMID 32312847 

  • Commentary by Juan C Sanchez Arias et al. PANX1 in inflammation heats up: New mechanistic insights with implications for injury and infection. Cell Calcium 2020 Jul 13;90:102253. PMID: 32688074

Leigh Anne Swayne, Scott R Johnstone, Chen Seng Ng, Juan C Sanchez-Arias, Miranda E Good, Silvia Penuela, Alexander W Lohman, Abigail G Wolpe, Victor E Laubach, Michael Koval, Brant E Isakson. Consideration of Pannexin 1 channels in COVID-19 pathology and treatment. Am J Physiol Lung Cell Mol Physiol. 2020 Jul 1;319(1):L121-L125. PMID: 32519892

Leon J DeLalio, Ester Masati, Suresh Mendu, Claire A Ruddiman, Yang Yang, Scott R Johnstone, Jenna A. Milstein, T.C. Stevenson Keller IV, Rachel B Weaver, Nick A. Guagliardo, Angela K Best, Kodi Ravichandran, Douglas A Bayliss, Maria Luisa S. Sequeira-Lopez, Swapnil N. Sonkusare, Bimal Desai, Paula Q. Barrett, Thu H. Le, Ariel R Gomez, and Brant E Isakson. Pannexin 1 channels in renin-expressing cells regulate renin secretion and blood pressure homeostasis. Kindey Int. 2020;S0085-2538(20)30543-3. doi: 10.1016/j.kint.2020.04.041

  • Commentary by Francois Alhenc-Gelas. A new channel for the control of renin secretion in juxtaglomerular cells. Kidney Int. 2020 Sep;98(3):543-545. PMID: 32828234

University of Virginia
Instructor of Research, Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Centre

Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow
Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences, School of Health and Life Sciences

University of Glasgow
Lord Kelvin Adam Smith Post-Doctoral Fellow, British Heart Foundation Glasgow Cardiovascular Research Centre (BHFGCRC)

University of Virginia
American Heart Association Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Robert M. Berne Cardiovascular Research Center

  • University of Glasgow: PGCAP
  • Glasgow Caledonian University: Ph.D.
  • Glasgow Caledonian University: BSc.
  •  University of Virginia, Outstanding Post-Doc award, 2009
  •  Glasgow Caledonian University, Travel Award, 2007
  •  Institute of Biomedical Science, Presidents Prize, 2004