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Genetic factors behind high blood pressure
20 September 2011
University of Gothenburg
High blood pressure is a well-known risk factor for heart disease. Researchers at the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, have participated in an international study of 200,000 Europeans which has identified 16 new genetic variations that affect blood pressure. The discovery, presented in Nature, is an important step towards better diagnostics and treatment.
A billion people worldwide suffer from high blood pressure and are therefore in the danger zone for the likes of heart disease and stroke. Effective prediction and control of high blood pressure is therefore one of the most pressing global health issues.
Analyzing genetic data
Researchers from the Sahlgrenska Academy at the University of Gothenburg are among an international consortium of more than 400 researchers from the US, Europe, Asia and Australia hoping to identify which parts of our genes influence blood pressure by sifting through vast quantities of genetic data.
2.5 million DNA variations
In their latest study, the researchers analysed more than 2.5 million DNA variations from more than 200,000 Europeans. The results, published in the renowned journal Nature, reveal 16 previously unknown genetic regions with interesting genes that regulate the body's blood pressure – both the lower level when the heart expands (diastolic) and the upper level when the heart contracts (systolic).
Genetic risk groups
With the help of these newly discovered genetic variations, the researchers have constructed genetic risk groups to help predict the risk of strokes and heart attacks.
"We’ve been able to classify individuals on the basis of how many risk variants for hypertension they have in their genes" says Fredrik Nyberg, a researcher from the Sahlgrenska Academy working on the project.
Important step forward
In another study published at the same time in Nature Genetics, the researchers from Gothenburg identify additional new genetic regions and genes controlling two other measures of blood pressure: pulse pressure (the difference between systolic and diastolic) and mean arterial pressure (an average of systolic and diastolic). The study shows how important it is to analyse different measures of blood pressure. For example, pulse pressure is a marker of rigidity in the arteries carrying blood from the heart to the body, and different genes seem to control different aspects of blood pressure.
The results of the two studies are considered to be an important step towards understanding how the body regulates blood pressure, and the newly discovered genetic regions are potential targets for future treatments.