Gene discoveries may pave the way for new blood pressure drugs

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In the largest-ever investigation into the genetic causes of high blood pressure, researchers have pinpointed 44 gene sites associated with this common condition. The findings may provide leads for developing new drugs to treat high blood pressure, say the authors, whose study was published online Sept. 12, 2016, by Nature Genetics.

The report combined findings from two international teams of scientists, one of which analyzed data from more than 327,000 people. They identified rare gene variants that provide instructions for proteins involved in relaxing blood vessels and eliminating excess salt from the body.

The second team studied gene variants that affect cardiovascular traits in more than 345,000 people. They discovered variants linked to both high blood pressure and damage to tissue in the heart and other key vascular structures. The findings highlighted the role of cells that line blood vessels (endothelial cells) and their ability to constrict—a clue that could be exploited to create new drugs.

Another potential drug target uncovered by the study is an enzyme involved in making noradrenaline, a hormone that affects both heart rate and blood pressure.