Gene Variants Affect Blood Pressure
February 21, 2014

11 New Genetic Variants Associated With High Blood Pressure Discovered

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

An international team of researchers has identified 11 new DNA sequence variants associated with blood pressure levels and heart disease, 10 of which could be are in or near genes encoding proteins and appear to be likely targets for drugs that are currently available or in development.

The study, which appears in Thursday’s edition of the American Journal of Human Genetics, examined the DNA of 87,736 individuals in order to discover genetic variants associated with blood pressure traits. This research led to the identification of 11 new genes, and the sequence variants were later validated in an additional 68,368 subjects.

The researchers confirmed 27 previously discovered gene signals linked to blood pressure, and discovered the 11 novel genetic signals covered in the paper. They narrowed it down to the 10 potential targets for small-molecule drugs using pharmacological databases, and found that the KCNJ11 and NQO1 genes are already being targeted by currently existing, already approved drugs, the study authors said in a statement.

“The fact that most of these new gene signals are 'druggable' targets offers the possibility of expedited pharmaceutical development of therapeutics for high blood pressure, a serious risk factor for cardiovascular diseases,” explained co-senior author Dr. Brendan J. Keating of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

“Some of the protein targets already are targets of existing drugs for other diseases, while others are the focus of drugs currently in early-phase clinical trials or under preclinical development,” he added. “If clinicians can reposition existing drugs to treat some patients with hypertension, this will save significant time in drug development, as they won't be starting development from scratch.”

Dr. Folkert W. Asselbergs of University Medical Center Utrecht and Dr. Patricia B. Munroe of Queen Mary University in London served as co-authors of the study. Additional researchers hailed from universities and institutions in the US, the UK, the Netherlands, Canada, Germany, Sweden and Ireland.

"Discovering these new genetic variants provides vital insight into how the body regulates blood pressure. With further research, we are hopeful it could lead to the development of new treatments for treating blood pressure and heart disease – a leading cause of death worldwide,” said Dr. Munroe.

According to the researchers, high blood pressure is estimated to cause 7.5 million deaths worldwide. The research was funded by the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), the British Heart Foundation and the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development.