London, Feb 16 (ANI): Scientists at Massachusetts General Hospital have identified two common genetic variants associated with increased risk of hypertension - a significant risk factor for heart attack, stroke and kidney failure.
The variants are located on two genes called NPPA and NPPB, which control proteins that relax blood vessels and help the excretion of dietary sodium.
Both genes are involved in the production of atrial and B-type natriuretic peptides (ANP and BNP).
"It's well known that hypertension can run in families, and a few rare genetic syndromes that raise blood pressure have been identified," Nature magazine quoted Dr Christopher Newton-Cheh, MPH of the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) Centre for Human Genetic Research and Cardiovascular Research Centre, first author, as saying.
"But the common genetic basis for the type of hypertension that affects a billion individuals around the world has been very difficult to establish," he added.
During the study, the researchers examined the genetic data from almost 30,000 individuals.
They first screened 1,700 participants in the Framingham Heart Study for 13 common variations - called single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) - in the NPPA and NPPB genes, looking for any correlation with levels of ANP and BNP.
The variants associated with changes in natriuretic peptide levels were then tested in the same individuals for any association with blood pressure levels.
One variant, present in almost 90 percent of the population, was found to be associated with a 20 percent reduction of ANP levels and an 18 percent greater incidence of hypertension.
The other variant had a similar, although less pronounced, effect on ANP levels and blood pressure.
"Natriuretic peptides are known to be produced by the heart when it is stressed, and screening for peptide levels is widely used to diagnose heart failure, a condition in which they are sharply elevated," said senior author Thomas Wang, MD, of the MGH Cardiology Division.
"It's currently premature to advocate screening natriuretic peptide levels or gene variants to diagnose hypertension risk, but someday it may be possible to treat natriuretic-peptide-deficient individuals with therapies that restore normal levels and reduce risk," he added.
The findings have been reported in the journal Nature Genetics. (ANI)