Dr. Jitka Virag, Ph.D.

Jitka Virag

Associate Professor, Department of Physiology
Diversity Engagement Officer
The Brody School of Medicine
East Carolina University
600 Moye Blvd, Greenville, NC 27834

Phone: 252-744-2777
Fax: 252-744-5477
Email: viragj@ecu.edu

Research Interests

Heart failure is a significant public health problem. The heart lacks sufficient regenerative potential to recover from an ischemic event. Investigative efforts aim to prevent excessive damage and alleviate subsequent remodeling and heart failure through the use of gene or protein therapy alone or in conjunction with cell/tissue grafting. We employ the murine model of myocardial infarction, to study acute ischemia/reperfusion injury as well as chronic remodeling in non-reperfused myocardial infarction. This is a very valuable tool that can be used to investigate factors that mediate injury, determinants of the extent of remodeling, and interventions that can impede or even halt these processes once they have begun.

The Eph receptors (Eph = erythropoietin-producing hepatocellular) and, their cognate ligands the ephrins (contraction of "Eph receptor interacting proteins" and after the Greek word "ephoros" meaning overseer or controller), the largest family of receptor tyrosine kinases, have been shown to contribute to differentiation, proliferation, and migration of various cell types during development. In particular, ephrinA1/EphA receptor tyrosine kinase signaling is essential to vascular growth in development as well as in adult tumor angiogenesis. The expression pattern of EphrinA1 and the eight EphA receptors is completely unknown in the adult heart, as well as in response to myocardial injury. Investigating the involvement of ephrinA1/EphA receptors in inflammation, autophagy, cell kinetics, angiogenesis, and scar formation in post-MI myocardium will provide the framework from which to extrapolate the potential capacity of selectively modulating ephrinA1 and EphA receptors to improve myocardial infarct healing.

We examine the heart from the level of cardiac function using echocardiography and pressure-volume loops, to the gross level histologically, to the protein and gene level using immunohistochemistry, MALDI-IMS, proteomic analyses, and RT-PCR. We also perform cell culture and molecular assays to resolve mechanistic questions. Those interested may inquire about possible openings in the laboratory.


Associate Professor (2009-present)
Department of Physiology
The Brody School of Medicine
East Carolina State University, Greenville, NC
Research focus: Repair of the infarcted heart

Interim Chief Diversity Officer (November 2015-November 2016)
Office of Academic Affairs
Brody School of Medicine
East Carolina State University, Greenville, NC

Research Scientist (September 2004-October 2005)
Universities Space Research Association, Division of Space Life Sciences, Center for Advanced Space Studies
Cardiovascular Laboratory, Johnson Space Center, NASA, Houston, TX
Research focus: The Effects of Microgravity on the Heart

Senior Fellow (1999-2004)
University of Washington, Seattle, WA
Advisor: Dr. Charles E. Murry, M.D., Ph.D.
Post-doctoral research project: Murine Myocardial Infarct Repair.

Doctor of Philosophy, Physiology (1994-1999)
Louisiana State University Medical Center (LSUMC), New Orleans, LA
Advisor: Dr. Kathleen H. McDonough, Ph.D.
Dissertation title: Mechanisms of Sepsis-Induced Dysfunction and Protection from Ischemia/Reperfusion Injury

Bachelor of Science with Honors, Biology (1989-1993)
Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada


Non-provisional Patent Application filing approved 8/11/16 for Provisional Patent Application #62221947, filed 9/22/15. Title: Cryopreservation of Cells Using Sucralose

US Patent #8580739 issued 11/12/13. Methods of Reducing Myocardial Injury Following Myocardial Infarction (for the use of EphrinA1)

Ongoing Research Support

Funding Agency: North Carolina Biotechnology Center, Institutional Development Grant.
Project: Automated Slide Scanning to Enhance Research Infrastructure and Throughput at East Carolina University. Requested Amount: $178,026
Role: PI; Award Notification: 3/23/16

Funding Agency: National Institutes of Health, NHLBI, R15-A1
Project: Salvaging the Ischemic Myocardium: The Role of EphrinA1/EphA Bidirectional Signaling
Role: PI; Award Amount: $300,000; Duration of Award: 3 years (07/01/2015 - 06/30/2018)

Funding Agency: Brody Brothers Endowment, Brody School of Medicine, ECU
Project: Molecular Histology of EphrinA1/EphA Receptors with MALDI-IMS in Mouse Myocardial Infarction
Role: PI; Award Amount: $25,753; Duration of Award: 1/1/17-12/31/17

Funding Agency: Undergraduate Research and Creative Achievement Award, East Carolina University
Project: EphrinA1-Fc Reduces Cardiac Fibroblast Activity and Collagen Production
Role: PI; Award Amount: $1,940; Duration of Award: 1/1/17-5/31/17


View complete list at Scopus.

Stephan Lefcoski, Kimberly Kew, Shaun Reece, Maria J. Torres, Justin Parks, Sky Reece, Lisandra E. de Castro Brás, and Jitka A. I. Virag. Anatomical-Molecular Distribution of EphrinA1 in Infarcted Mouse Heart Using MALDI Mass Spectrometry Imaging. J Am Soc Mass Spec 2018 Jan 5 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs13361-017-1869-7

Merry L. Lindsey, Zamaneh Kassiri, Jitka Amira Ismail Virag, Lisandra E. de Castro Brás, and Marielle Scherrer-Crosbie. Guidelines for Measuring Cardiac Physiology in Mice. Am J Physiol 2018 Jan 5 http://www.physiology.org/doi/pdf/10.1152/ajpheart.00339.2017
Podcast with Merry Lindsey, Marielle Scherrer-Crosbie, Jitka Virag, and Dave Kass

Augustin DuSablon, Justin Parks, K'Shylah Whitehurst, Heather Estes, Robert Chase, Eleftherios Vlahos, Uma Sharma, David Wert, and Jitka Virag. EphrinA1-Fc Attenuates Ischemia/Reperfusion Injury in Mice. PLOS ONE 2017 Dec 13 https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0189307

Anh Thi Van Bui, Truc Le Buu Pham, Jitka Virag. Improving stem cell engraftment to enhance function efficacy in cardiovascular disease: where are we now? Biomedical Research & Therapy 4(1): 1082-1097, Jan 17, 2017. DOI: 10.15419/bmrat.v4i1.146

Jitka Virag. Healing the Broken Heart. International Innovation 2015, June 12 http://www.internationalinnovation.com/healing-the-broken-heart/

Lalage A. Katunga, Preeti Gudimella, Jimmy T. Efird, Scott Abernathy, Taylor A. Mattox, Cherese Beatty, Timothy M. Darden, Kathleen A. Thayne, Hazaim Alwair, Alan P. Kypson, Jitka A. Virag, Ethan J. Anderson. Obesity in a model of gpx4 haploinsufficiency uncovers a causal role for lipid-derived aldehydes in human metabolic disease and cardiomyopathy. Molecular Metabolism 2015, Apr 21, doi:10.1016/j.molmet.2015.04.001

Jitka A.I. Virag. Circadian Rhythm Complexities in Cardiovascular Dynamics. Sleep Medicine, Editorial 2015, January 26, doi:10.1016/j.sleep.2015.01.014

Jitka A.I. Virag and Robert M. Lust. Circadian Influences on Myocardial Infarction. Frontiers in Physiology, Integrative Physiology. Special topics issue "Mechanistic Underpinnings of Circadian Physiology in Heart Disease", October 30, 2014, doi: 10.3389/fphys.2014.00422

Augustin DuSablon, Susan Kent, Anita Coburn, and Jitka Virag. EphA2-Receptor Deficiency Exacerbates Myocardial Infarction and Reduces Survival in Hyperglycemic Mice. Cardiovascular Diabetology 2014, August 13:114, doi: 10.1186/s12933-014-0114-y

O'Neal, WT, Griffin, WF, Kent, SD, Faiz, F, Hodges, J, Vuncannon, J, and Virag, JAI. Deletion of the EphA2 receptor exacerbates myocardial injury and the progression of ischemic cardiomyopathy. Frontiers in Physiology, Integrative Physiology 2014 Mar 17, 5: 132. doi:10.3389/fphys.2014.00132.

Johnson, Tracy, Tulis, DA, Keeler, BE, Virag, JAI, Lust, RM, and Clemens, S. The dopamine D3 receptor knockout mouse mimics aging- related changes in autonomic function and cardiac fibrosis. PLoS One. 2013 Aug 30 8(8) doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0074116

Jitka A. I. Virag, Ethan J. Anderson, Susan D. Kent, Harrison D. Blanton, Tracy L. Johnson, Fatiha Moukdar, Jonathan H. DeAntonio, Kathleen Thayne, Jian M. Ding, and Robert M. Lust. Cardioprotection via Preserved Mitochondrial Structure and Function in the mPer2-mutant Mouse Myocardium. Am J Physiol Heart and Circ. 2013 Jun 14 (epub).

Wesley T. O'Neal MD; Jessica L. Dries PhD; Susan D. Kent BS; Jin Chen MD, PhD, Monte S. Willis MD, PhD, Jitka A. I. Virag PhD. Ephrin-Eph Signaling as a Potential Therapeutic Target for the Treatment of Myocardial Infarction. Medical Hypotheses 80(6): 738-744, 2013. (Epub April 4, 2013)

Wesley T. O'Neal, MD, William F. Griffin MS, Susan D. Kent BS, Jitka A. I. Virag PhD. Cellular Pathways of Death and Survival in Acute Myocardial Infarction. J Clin Exp Cardiol 2012. Invited submission for special issue: "Coronary Heart Disease". http://dx.doi.org/10.4172/2155-9880.S6-003.

Virag, J. A., Lust, R. M., Coronary Artery Ligation and Intramyocardial Injection in a Murine Model of Infarction J Vis Exp. (2011) Jun 7;(52). pii: 2581. doi: 10.3791/2581

Dries JL, Kent SD, Virag JA. Intramyocardial Administration of EphrinA1-Fc Promotes Tissue Salvage Following Myocardial Infarction in Mice. J of Physiol Apr 1; 589(Pt7):1725-40 (Epub Jan 31, 2011)

Virag JA, Dries JL, Easton PR, Friesland AM, DeAntonio JH, Chintalgattu V, Cozzi E, Lehmann BD, Ding JM, Lust RM. Attenuation of myocardial injury in mice with functional deletion of the circadian rhythm gene mPer2. Am J Physiol Heart Circ Physiol. 2010 Mar;298(3):H1088-95. Epub 2010 Jan 8.

Virag JA, Rolle ML, Reece J, Hardouin S, Feigl EO, Murry CE. Fibroblast growth factor-2 regulates myocardial infarct repair: effects on cell proliferation, scar contraction, and ventricular function. Am J Pathol. 2007 Nov;171(5):1431-40. Epub 2007 Sep 14.

Nussbaum J, Minami E, Laflamme MA, Virag JA, Ware CB, Masino A, Muskheli V, Pabon L, Reinecke H, Murry CE. Transplantation of undifferentiated murine embryonic stem cells in the heart: teratoma formation and immune response. FASEB J. 2007 May;21(7):1345-57. Epub 2007 Feb 6.

Stevens KR, Rolle MW, Minami E, Ueno S, Nourse MB, Virag JI, Reinecke H, Murry CE. Chemical dimerization of fibroblast growth factor receptor-1 induces myoblast proliferation, increases intracardiac graft size, and reduces ventricular dilation in infarcted hearts. Hum Gene Ther. 2007 May;18(5):401-12.

McDonough KH, Virag JI. Sepsis-induced myocardial dysfunction and myocardial protection from ischemia/reperfusion injury. Front Biosci. 2006 Jan 1;11:23-32. Review.

Reinecke H, Minami E, Virag JI, Murry CE. Gene transfer of connexin43 into skeletal muscle. Hum Gene Ther. 2004 Jul;15(7):627-36.

Murry CE, Soonpaa MH, Reinecke H, Nakajima H, Nakajima HO, Rubart M, Pasumarthi KB, Virag JI, Bartelmez SH, Poppa V, Bradford G, Dowell JD, Williams DA, Field LJ. Haematopoietic stem cells do not transdifferentiate into cardiac myocytes in myocardial infarcts. Nature. 2004 Apr 8;428(6983):664-8. Epub 2004 Mar 21.

Virag JI, Murry CE. Myofibroblast and endothelial cell proliferation during murine myocardial infarct repair. Am J Pathol. 2003 Dec;163(6):2433-40.

Ismail JA, Poppa V, Kemper LE, Scatena M, Giachelli CM, Coffin JD, Murry CE. Immunohistologic labeling of murine endothelium. Cardiovasc Pathol. 2003 Mar-Apr;12(2):82-90.

Ismail JA, McDonough KH. The role of K+ATP channels in the control of pre- and post-ischemic left ventricular developed pressure in septic rat hearts. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 2001 Mar;79(3):213-9.

Ismail JA, McDonough KH. The role of coronary flow and adenosine in postischemic recovery of septic rat hearts. Am J Physiol. 1998 Jul;275(1 Pt 2):H8-14.