Genetic Regions Linked to High Blood Pressure Could Identify At-Risk Patients


New blood pressure genes may serve as potential drug targets for hypertension.

More than 100 new gene regions associated with hypertension have been identified, and could serve as potential new targets for hypertension treatments.

In a study published in Nature Genetics, the findings suggest that genetic testing could help physicians better target medication to certain patients with hypertension, and advise appropriate lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

For the study, investigators tested 9.8 million genetic variants obtained from 420,000 UK Biobank participants. The variants were then cross-referenced with the patients’ blood pressure data.

Overall, 107 new gene regions were identified, many of which were expressed in high levels in blood vessels and cardiovascular tissue.

By linking health and hospital data from UK Biobank participants with their blood pressure genetics, the investigators were able to develop a genetic risk score. The score could be used to predict the increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke.

The higher a patient’s risk score, the more likely they were to have hypertension by 50-years-old, according to the study. Patients found near the top end of the risk scale were likely to have 10 mmHg higher blood pressure compared with patients with lower risk scores.

Additionally, for every 10 mmHg the blood pressure was above normal, the risk of stroke and heart disease increased by approximately 50% or more.

“Finding 107 new genetic regions linked to blood pressure almost doubles the amount of genes we can evaluate to target for drug treatment,” said co-lead author Mark Caulfield. “These exciting genetic regions could provide the basis for new innovative preventative therapies and lifestyle changes for this major cause of heart disease and stroke.”

Hypertension accounts for approximately 1 of every 3 adults in the UK. Worldwide, it is the leading risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and death.

“Ultimately, high blood pressure in the general UK population is too high, and we encourage everyone to maintain healthy lifestyles by eating properly and exercising enough, as this will reduce the risk of all sorts of disease,” said co-lead author Paul Elliott. “However, our new findings may help [physicians] to identify earlier those who are most at risk of high blood pressure in mid-life and intervene to prevent that occurring.

“We cannot help our genetic makeup, but we can help our lifestyles and, in future, we may be able to alter our lifestyles while knowing whether we are at a genetic advantage or disadvantage. [Physicians] might eventually be able to determine a child’s genetic risk of diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and maybe even cancer, so that they can live well enough to try to counteract the genetic input.”

For 10 years, the UK Biobank has gathered high-quality data from hundreds of thousands of individuals across the country. Participants donate blood, urine, and saliva samples, in addition to detailed health, lifestyle, and environment information.

“This analysis highlights the benefits of using very large studies, such as UK Biobank, with high-quality data where all participants have had measurements done in exactly the same way, to enable the discovery of many new genetic signals associated with raised blood pressure,” said first author Helen Warren.

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