Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine.
Houston Methodist. Leading Medicine

Henry J. Pownall Ph.D.

Henry J. Pownall, Ph.D.

Henry J. Pownall, Ph.D.

Henry J. Pownall, Ph.D.

Full Member 
Director, Atherosclerosis & Lipoprotein Research
Cardiovascular Disease Program
The Methodist Hospital Research Institute

Department of Cardiology
The Methodist Hospital

E-mail:  HJPownall@houstonmethodist.org

Phone: 713-441-7048


Ph.D.   Northeastern University, Boston, MA (Chemistry)
M.S.   Wilkes College, Wilkes-Barre, PA (Chemistry)
B.S.    Elizabethtown College, Elizabethtown, PA (Chemistry)

Postdoctoral Training

Postdoctoral Fellow, Photochemistry and Spectroscopy, University of Houston, Houston, TX

Postdoctoral Fellow, Biochemistry Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX



Dr. Pownall’s doctoral training was in physical chemistry with postdoctoral fellowships in molecular spectroscopy at the University of Houston, and biochemistry at Baylor College of Medicine with an emphasis on lipid metabolism.  Over time he moved his studies from molecules to in vivo models, studying biophysics, peptide design, lipid synthesis and enzymology, and cell and molecular biology.  His work is centered on high density lipoprotein therapeutics, and energy metabolism as it relates to obesity-linked diabetes and human lipid metabolism.  A major goal of his research is to determine how alcohol ingestion contributes to enhanced postprandial lipemia, attendant pancreatitis, or alcohol-induced reduction of cardiovascular disease, an effect mediated by increased HDL-cholesterol. 

His research is multidisciplinary, with extensive collaboration with structural biologists, endocrinologists, and x-ray crystallographers. Structural biologists provide expertise in lipid and lipoprotein structure by electron cryo microscopy. Endocrinologists have synergistic interests in the lipid disorders found in HIV-positive patients on highly active anti retroviral therapies. X-ray crystallographers help discern the total structure of Streptococcal serum opacity factor (SOF) for determination of structure function relationships. 

Dr. Pownall maintains an active academic program.  He is a member of three graduate programs at Baylor College of Medicine (Structural Computational Biology and Molecular Biophysics, Cell and Molecular Biology, and Cardiovascular Sciences) in which he teaches classes and serves on graduate advisory and qualifying exams committees.  He is also active in community education, giving lectures on molecular ethics  to local groups including several churches, home owner associations and garden clubs.

Description of Research

Dr. Pownall’s studies encompass multiple aspects of lipid metabolism, particularly HDL structure, properties and function in the context of obesity-linked diabetes and atherogenesis. His research goals are as follows:

  • To determine if Streptococcal serum opacity factor (SOF) can enhance cholesterol disposal and reverse atherosclerosis
  • To obtain a high resolution X-ray structure of SOF for the identification of active sites and design of SOF analogs
  • To compare the energy storage potential of central and femoral gluteal depots, as they relate to obesity-linked diabetes
  • To assess the effects of acetate, as an alcohol metabolite and in the food supply, on HDL levels and the onset of pancreatitis

Major Areas of Research

Physical chemistry, obesity-linked diabetes, cholesterol transport, atherogenesis, fluorescence

Recent Publications

Zhang L, Yan F, Zhang S, Lei D, Charles MA, Cavigiolio G, Oda M, Krauss RM, Weisgraber KH, Rye KA, Pownall HJ, Qiu X, Ren G. Structural basis of transfer between lipoproteins by cholesteryl ester transfer protein. Nat Chem Biol. 2012 Feb 19;8(4):342-9. PMID: 22344176

Rosales C, Tang D, Gillard BK, Courtney HS, Pownall HJ. Apolipoprotein E mediates enhanced plasma high-density lipoprotein cholesterol clearance by low-dose streptococcal serum opacity factor via hepatic low-density lipoprotein receptors in vivo. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2011 Aug;31(8):1834-41. PMID: 21597008

Balasubramanyam A, Coraza I, Smith EO, Scott LW, Patel P, Iyer D, Taylor AA, Giordano TP, Sekhar RV, Clark P, Cuevas-Sanchez E, Kamble S, Ballantyne CM,Pownall HJ. Combination of niacin and fenofibrate with lifestyle changes improves dyslipidemia and hypoadiponectinemia in HIV patients on antiretroviral therapy: results of "heart positive," a randomized, controlled trial. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2011 Jul;96(7):2236-47. PMID: 21565796

Tchoua U, Rosales C, Tang D, Gillard BK, Vaughan A, Lin HY, Courtney HS, Pownall HJ. Serum opacity factor enhances HDL-mediated cholesterol efflux, esterification and anti inflammatory effects. Lipids. 2010 Dec;45(12):1117-26. PMID: 20972840

Gillard BK, Rosales C, Pillai BK, Lin HY, Courtney HS, and Pownall HJ.  Streptococcal serum opacity factor increases the rate of hepatocyte uptake of human plasma high-density lipoprotein cholesterol.  Biochemistry. 2010 Nov 16;49(45):9866-73. PMID: 20879789

Ren G, Rudenko G, Ludtke SJ, Deisenhofer J, Chiu W, Pownall HJ. Model of human low-density lipoprotein and bound receptor based on cryoEM. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Jan 19;107(3):1059-64. PMID: 20080547

Gillard BK, Lin HY, Massey JB, Pownall HJ. Apolipoproteins A-I, A-II and E are independently distributed among intracellular and newly secreted HDL of human hepatoma cells. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2009 Dec;1791(12):1125-32. PMID: 19635584

Rosales C, Gillard BK, Courtney HS, Blanco-Vaca F, and Pownall HJ.  Apolipoprotein Modulation of Streptococcal Serum Opacity Factor Activity against Human Plasma High Density Lipoproteins.  Biochemistry. 2009 48:8070-6.  PMID: 19618959

Massey JB, Pownall HJ. Cholesterol is a determinant of the structures of discoidal high density lipoproteins formed by the solubilization of phospholipid membranes by apolipoprotein A-I. Biochim Biophys Acta. 2008 May;1781(5):245-53. PMID: 18406360

Gillard BK, Courtney HS, Massey JB, and Pownall HJ.  Serum Opacity Factor Unmasks Human Plasma High Density Lipoprotein Instability via Selective Delipidation and Apolipoprotein A-I Desorption. Biochemistry. 2007 46:12968-12978.  PMID: 17941651