University of Leicester eBulletin

Major UK Study Homes In On Genes Responsible for High Blood Pressure

June 2003
No 165

The results of a six-year, Medical Research Council (MRC) funded study – involving 20 University of Leicester researchers - to identify the genes responsible for hypertension, are published in The Lancet this week.

The MRC British Genetics of Hypertension (BRIGHT) study is the largest white European genome scan for high blood pressure (hypertension) published to date, involving 1600 families with at least two siblings who have severe hypertension.

Evidence from previous family studies suggests that hypertension results from a complex mix of inherited factors or genes and the influences of lifestyle (environment). Some risk factors that can be modified such as obesity, alcohol consumption and dietary salt intake, are well recognised but until now there has been little understanding of the genes that raise blood pressure.

The MRC BRIGHT Study has identified four areas of the human genome that may contain genes causing hypertension. These findings move us much closer to the main inherited causes for human hypertension.

Professor Mark Caulfield of Barts and The London, Queen Mary’s School of Medicine, is one of the lead researchers of the study. He said: “High blood pressure affects more than 20 per cent of the UK population, and is a major cause of heart disease and stroke.  By understanding the genes which predispose people to common disorders such as hypertension, we may gain insights into the mechanisms behind the condition, possibly discover new medications and improve control of this major cause of heart disease and stroke.”

The BRIGHT study is a national collaboration between Barts and The London, Queen Mary’s School of Medicine, and the Universities of Aberdeen, Cambridge, Glasgow, Leicester and Oxford. Researchers from the partner institutes screened the genetic code of 1599 families with severe hypertension. This is like a fingerprint search for critical evidence. The BRIGHT study results enable us to home in on areas of the human genome that may contain important genes for this common disorder. At this time we do not know the precise genetic factors.

Major funding and support for the study came from the MRC, with additional funds from The British Heart Foundation, The Wellcome Trust, Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, British Hypertension Society, Barts and The London Charitable Foundation, and the Centre Nationale de Genotypage.

For further information please contact (can local press officers co-ordinate with Sally who will act as a link with Johnny Steyn at MRC and National news media): Sally Webster , Acting Head of Press & PR , Queen Mary, University of London , 020 7882 5404 , s.webster@qmul.ac.uk

At Leicester: Please contact Professor Samani, 0116 256 3054 .

NOTES TO EDITORS

What is hypertension?

Hypertension is persistent abnormally high blood pressure. Blood pressure is the pressure of blood in your arteries. The blood circulation is a closed system in which the pressure varies constantly. It rises to a peak, called the systolic pressure, at the height of the contraction of each heartbeat as the heart pumps blood out. Then it falls to a lower level, called the diastolic pressure, which it reaches just before each heartbeat. The diastolic pressure is the running pressure between beats.

Blood pressure varies constantly with the level of physical exertion, with anxiety, stress, emotional changes, and other factors. So single measurements are not particularly meaningful and the blood pressure should be checked under resting conditions, at different times. Blood pressure is measured in terms of millimetres of mercury (mmHg). Hypertension is usually defined as a sustained systolic blood pressure of 140 mmHg or more, or diastolic blood pressure of 90 mmHg or more, at rest.

A recent World Health Organisation report (http://www.who.int/en/index) suggests that blood pressure may contribute to 50% of the global cardiovascular disease epidemic which kills more than 12 million people annually worldwide. Lifestyle modification by losing weight, reducing alcohol consumption and low salt intake can reduce blood pressure but most patients with hypertension require treatment with several medications.

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