Kathleen P. O'Hagan, PhD

Professor and Chair, Physiology

College of Graduate Studies (Primary Appointment)

Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine
College of Dental Medicine-Illinois, College of Health Sciences, Chicago College of Optometry and Chicago College of Pharmacy

Mail Address:

Midwestern University 
Dept of Physiology
555 31st St. 
Downers Grove, IL 60515

Office: SH422-H 

Department phone: (630) 515-6387
Direct line: (630) 515-6966

e-mail: mailto:kohaga@midwestern.edu


BA Biology College of the Holy Cross
(Worcester MA)
PhD Physiology & Neurobiology Rutgers, The State University of NJ
(New Brunswick NJ)

Research Summary

Pilot Research Project-miR133a, exercise and nutrient stress [2018-19]

Much is known about the positive associations between type II diabetes (metabolic disease), obesity and development of cardiovascular disease.  Regular exercise is known to delay or reduce the severity of type II diabetes and the metabolic derangements associated with high fat diet and/or obesity. Questions still remain as to the molecular mechanisms by which exercise can oppose or prevent certain pathophysiologic characteristics of metabolic disease. in collaboration with Prasanth Puthanveetil, PhD (Dept of Pharmacology), we hypothesize that a small non-coding RNA (miR133a) known to modify many cell signaling pathways that affect skeletal muscle and cardiac muscle function is upregulated early in the adoption of regular exercise and is an important player in the known effect of exercise to oppose the metabolic problems associated with a high-fat/obesogenic diet in rats.  This pilot study will test this hypothesis by testing skeletal muscle for levels of miR133a, and selected markers of mitochondrial function, inflammation and glucose handling in sedentary rats and rats allowed to exercise using cage wheels, who are exposed to normal and high fat diets.  The results will determine if miR133a is a viable target for future, more in-depth studies targeting pharmacological and non-pharmacological approaches to the prevention and treatment of metabolic disease. 

Research Project [2018-19] for Students:

This project is especially appropriate for those MBS students who currently have or are interested in developing laboratory techniques in molecular biology, such as PCR and Western blots.  Projects involving literature review and laboratory support may be available for MA or OMS research electives.  Contact Dr O'Hagan for more information.

Exercise in Pregnancy

Pregnancy is associated with physiologic alterations in the function of maternal organ systems to meet the increasing metabolic needs of the developing fetus.  Over the past years, our research program has addressed the impact of normal pregnancy on the neural control of the circulation both at rest and during dynamic exercise.

Exercise is a common stressor. It is well known that the physiological changes during exercise include increases in blood flow to the active skeletal muscle and decreases in blood flow, and thus oxygen delivery, to abdominal organs due to activation of sympathetic nerves to the blood vessels.  However, it was not well understood how exercise affected the blood vessels to the uterus, especially during pregnancy.  We found that exercise did result in a decrease in blood flow to the uterine circulation in the nonpregnant state, due primarily to a decrease in the diameter of the blood vessels, which is termed "vasoconstriction".  Interestingly, during the latter part of pregnancy, when growth of the fetus is rapid, the exercise-induced vasoconstriction in the uterine circulation was much less.  Our intention is to look more closely at the mechanisms underlying this attenuation of the uterine vasoconstrictor response in normal pregnancy and in pregnancies compromised by diabetes or hypertension.  In addition, we are interested in how regular, voluntary physical activity affects the control of the uteroplacental circulation during exercise in normal and compromised pregnancy states.  The projects listed below provide essential background data to assist in the rational design of these studies.

Research Projects

An ongoing project is to 1) determine the pattern of voluntary physical activity on cage wheels in rats studied before, during and after pregnancy, 2) evaluate whether the presence of pups in the cage affects the recovery of voluntary physical activity post-pregnancy.

[2018-19] Students:

This project is available for data analysis only, and is appropriate for research electives or work-study.  Contact Dr O'Hagan for more information.

Selected Publications (see full list)

Lashley CJ, Supik DA, Atkinson JT, Murphy RJ, O'Hagan KP. Effect of pregnancy on the uterine vasoconstrictor response to exercise in rats.  Physiol Rep, 3 (3), 2015, e12337 doi: 10.14814/phy2.12337 [open access] PubMed PMCID: PMC4393170

Nesbitt AE, Murphy RJ, O'Hagan KP. Effect of gestational stage on uterine artery blood flow during exercise in rabbits. J Appl Physiol (1985). 2005 Dec;99(6):2159-65. PubMed PMID: 16109835.

O'Hagan KP, Alberts JA. Uterine artery blood flow and renal sympathetic nerve activity during exercise in rabbit pregnancy. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2003 Nov;285(5):R1135-44. PubMed PMID: 12869366.

Brooks VL, Clow KA, O'Hagan KP. Pregnancy and acute baroreflex resetting in conscious rabbits. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2002 Aug;283(2):R429-40. PubMed PMID: 12121856.

O'Hagan KP, Skogg KA, Stevenson JB. AT1 receptor block does not affect arterial baroreflex during pregnancy in rabbits. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2001 May;280(5):H1996-2005. PubMed PMID: 11299199.

Mueller PJ, O'Hagan KP, Skogg KA, Buckwalter JB, Clifford PS. Renal hemodynamic responses to dynamic exercise in rabbits. J Appl Physiol (1985). 1998 Nov;85(5):1605-14. PubMed PMID: 9804559.

O'Hagan KP, Casey SM. Arterial baroreflex during pregnancy and renal sympathetic nerve activity during parturition in rabbits. Am J Physiol. 1998 May;274(5 Pt 2):H1635-42. PubMed PMID: 9612374.