New Advances on the Genetic Basis of Hypertension and Blood Pressure Released Today

Three major new studies, published today in Nature Genetics, provide novel insights into the genetic basis of hypertension and blood pressure, with the contribution of the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol.

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Blood pressure is the pressure applied from the blood as it passes through the arterial system due to the pump action of the heart.  Levels of blood pressure continuously fluctuate and follow a daily pattern.

The persistent elevation of blood pressure is known as hypertension and is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and damage to various organs, such as the heart, brain and kidneys.  Our understanding of the underlying genetic mechanisms affecting the regulation of blood pressure and the development of hypertension is still limited.

The new studies discovered a number of new genes that are able to affect blood pressure levels and hypertension.  The three large teams of scientists were also able to refine previous knowledge and provide new information on the biological pathways and tissues involved in blood pressure regulation.  The new research reveals relationships between hypertension and other cardiometabolic diseases and highlights potential new therapeutic targets.

Dr Fotios Drenos, from the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit was a member of the leading team of scientists for one of the published papers, and co-author in all three studies. He said: “Undoubtedly, the published studies constitute a great advancement in our understanding of the genetic basis of blood pressure.  The identification of genes implicated in heart development and structure, the lining of the blood vessels and brain function open up additional targets for pharmacological interventions”.

He added: “The reported results clearly illustrate the large degree of overlap between pathways affecting blood pressure and other important risk factors of cardiovascular disease.  Although it is not yet clear if this is due to a common aetiology or a cause-effect relationship, it raises the possibility of a single drug that can control multiple cardiovascular risk factors.”

Dr Drenos also said: “We are still far from fully explaining the inherited part of blood pressure, and although the published studies use the largest reported population samples used in blood pressure research, reaching the 350,000 individuals, even bigger collaborations will be required before we can provide a unified view of the severe familial forms of hypertension and the idiopathic forms of the disease commonly seen.”