The first common genetic variants for blood pressure and hypertension in the general population have been identified, according to a study published online this week in Nature Genetics. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and renal failure, and is a modifiable non-infective cause of morbidity and mortality.
Christopher Newton-Cheh and colleagues carried out a genome wide association of European individuals and found two common variants that affect blood pressure. These variants are located in genes that encode proteins produced by the heart and blood vessels, called natriuretic peptides, because they are known to regulate the process of salt excretion through the urine. Since the discovery that the heart secretes a family of hormones that relaxes blood vessels and promotes the removal of excess salt through the urine in response to increased wall stress, it has been speculated that natriuretic peptides might be involved in blood pressure regulation in humans.
The effect these genetic variants have on blood pressure is significant, comparable to changes that have been suggested previously to be associated with an approximately 8% lower risk of heart disease. Potentially lifelong exposure to changes in blood pressure, as can occur due to differences in genotype, could in turn magnify these effects. Therapeutic agents that chronically activate the natriuretic peptide system are now under development as a useful treatment of hypertension.