Dundee and Glasgow universities uncover blood pressure genes
A multinational research project led by the Universities of Dundee and Glasgow has identified genes which are key to developing high blood pressure.
The condition, also known as hypertension, is a commonly inherited ailment triggered by genetic factors and the environment.
Until now, the underlying genes have proved difficult to identify.
The research could help the development of treatments for thousands of patients.
Scientists have identified a common mutation of the genes which regulate the production of the essential hormones, aldosterone and cortisol, in the adrenal gland as being influential in the development of hypertension.
Prof John Connell, Vice-Principal of the University of Dundee, led the project alongside and Prof Eleanor Davies from the University of Glasgow.
Prof Connell said: "It has proved very difficult to identify genetic causes of hypertension but this research shows that a gene variation that is present in around 40% of the population is a significant factor.
"Drugs targeting aldosterone are already used in the treatment of hypertension, so this study emphasises that these should be more widely used.
"It will also inform the development of other therapies that could affect the way that aldosterone is produced.
"We know that the effects of aldosterone are amplified by a high salt diet, so this could give an important clue to an interaction between a common genetic variation and the environment."
The study used data from more than 3000 patients held by the MRC British Genetics of HyperTension (BRIGHT) study and a further 2900 cases from the Nordic Diltiazem study (NORDIL) and the Malmo Cancer and Diet Study.
It built on theoretical models that variations in these genes may be risk factors for hypertension.
Prof Davies said: "One of the extremely satisfying aspects of this research has been that we have been able to take that theory all the way through to firm findings that show how the gene variation leads to altered function."
Prof Connell added: "We will now look to carry out further research, particularly with regard to the importance of genetically determined variation in aldosterone in other forms of cardiovascular disease."
The project was funded by the Medical Research Council, and involved researchers from across the UK and Europe including the Universities of Cambridge, Aberdeen, Queen Mary London, Oxford and Leicester.