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10/05/2009 - Press release

Eight new genes associated with blood pressure and hypertension have been discovered

This study, in which 164 researchers from 93 European and American centres participated will be published in Nature Genetics.

Spanish researchers from the Municipal Institute for Medical Research (IMIM), the Biomedical Research Centre Network for Epidemiology and Public Health (CIBERESP) and the HERACLES Cardiovascular Network are the only Spanish representatives that have participated in a study which has identified 8 genetic variants associated with blood pressure.

It is estimated that high blood pressure causes around 7 million deaths each year worldwide, mainly as the risk of myocardial infarction and stroke (embolism/ brain haemorrhage) increases. In Spain, this affects 35% of the adult population. Despite the fact that certain lifestyle factors have been identified that increase the risk of high blood pressure, such as excessive alcohol consumption, inactivity, excess weight, obesity and excessive salt consumption, the causes are still unknown in 95% of cases. The observation of the hereditary nature of this condition suggests that it may be genetic factors that determine whether or not a person will suffer from high blood pressure. The International Consortium, Global BPGen, decided to address this issue with the most modern genotyping technology in existence.

In order to identify the genetic characteristics associated with blood pressure, researchers examined the larger part of the genome. The International Global BPgen Consortium was established and 2,500,000 genetic characteristics were analysed in 34,433 people whose blood pressure was also measured. The most important discoveries from this analysis were confirmed in another 99,000 people of European origin and 13,000 people of Asian origin. Eight genetic variants that contribute to blood pressure control were ultimately identified.

The researchers emphasise that the although each one of these genetic variants has a small effect on blood pressure, the combination of all of them can have a cumulative effect. According to Roberto Elosua, coordinator of the Research Group on Cardiovascular Epidemiology and Genetics at the Municipal Institute for Medical Research (IMIM): “The most important aspect of this study is that these discoveries will help us understand the mechanisms that cause high blood pressure and which could contribute to the future development of new drugs to treat this condition”.

The genetic variants discovered in this study suggest that some of the most important mechanisms in blood pressure control are linked to renal control of salt levels and control of artery diameter. The next challenge is researching the complex network of relationships between genetic characteristics and blood pressure levels.

The Spanish researchers who participated in this study were: Dr. Gavin Lucas (IMIM), Issac Subirana (IMIM-CIBERESP), Dr. Jaume Marrugat (IMIM), Dr. Roberto Elosua (IMIM-CIBERESP). The Spanish part of the study was financed by the HERACLES Cardiovascular Network of the Carlos III Institute of the Ministry of Science and Innovation and the Fundació La Marató de TV3.

The main researchers in this study were: Dr. Christopher Newton-Cheh (Massachusetts General Hospital), Professors Patricia Munroe and Mark Caulfield (Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry) and Dr. Goncalo Abeçasis (University of Michigan).

Reference article:

Genome-wide association study identifies eight loci associated with blood pressure. Nature Genetics 2009; epub 10 May. DOI: 10.1038/ng.361.

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