Eight human genes have been recognised as modulating blood pressure by a team from London, UK, presenting findings at the European Society of Hypertension’s annual conference. The researchers hope that these will provide targets for new drugs to treat hypertension.
MILAN—Eight human genes have been discovered which—collectively—may contribute substantially to the burden of hypertension in communities, that’s according to research presented here at the European Meeting on Hypertension by Mark Caulfield, MBBS MD FRCP, Professor of Clinical Pharmacology at Barts and The London School of Medicine, and Director of the William Harvey Research Institute.
After his presentation in Milan, he said in an interview that although the newly identified genes individually each have small effects, the overall effect may be large, because several such common genes for high blood pressure may be expressed in the same patient causing an additive effect.
“The effects that we saw were one, or half a millimetre [of mercury] of blood pressure, and you may say: that’s a bit disappointing. On the other hand, small differences in blood pressure across a whole population greatly affect risk of stroke and heart attack, so the aggregate of our findings—elevating blood pressure by two millimetres of mercury— could make a six per cent difference to stroke and about a five per cent difference to coronary disease risk,” he said.
The findings have recently been published (Nature Genetics 2009 41: 666-676) in a study with 71 225 people in whom relevant genes were located in 34 433—in other words: they are clearly common genes possessed by half of the population surveyed.
His main interest in doing this research, Professor Caulfield explained, was in developing new medicines. Even though such genes individually may have small effects, they give starting points for drug design which, historically, has yielded large therapeutic effects even from small differences in molecular function discovered by scientists.
And the genes the London scientists have spotted possess other important functions which promise to help elucidate disease mechanisms and the design molecular therapies. Among these are pro-thrombotic activities and also angiotensin, naturietic peptide, and steroid synthesis. Professor Caulfield believes these all have therapeutic potential:
“The variations that we found identified a number of regions which contained some genes that could be good candidates for affecting blood pressure—also, the naturietic peptides represent potential therapeutic targets,” he said.
“These are the first robust genes and [together with findings from another publication] we now have 13 genes for hypertension which are identified for systolic and diastolic blood pressure”.