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Genes That Control Body's Salt Levels Are Identified
Date:2/16/2009

Whether finding will lead to treatment improvements remains unclear

MONDAY, Feb. 16 (HealthDay News) -- The largest study of the effects of genetics on blood pressure in humans has linked variant versions of genes that control levels of salt in the body with high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

"There have been hundreds of genes and gene variants reported to be related to blood pressure," said Dr. Christopher Newton-Cheh, assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and the Center for Human Genetic Research at Massachusetts General Hospital and lead author of a report in Nature Genetics. "What distinguishes this study is the ability to genotype 30,000 people to establish a relationship that these gene variants cause higher levels of natriuretic peptides and therefore are related to blood pressure." Natriuretic peptides are compounds that help the body get rid of salt.

It's not yet clear that the finding will be of use in medical practice, Newton-Cheh said. Drugs aimed at the genes might be no more effective at keeping high blood pressure under control than existing medications, such as diuretics, he said. But the study does offer valuable insight into a basic physiological cause of high blood pressure.

The researchers looked at variants of two genes for these peptides -- atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP) and B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP). They found three variants clearly related to higher levels of the peptides and, therefore, to lower blood pressure. Higher peptide levels lead to lower blood pressure because "these are molecules designed to let the body get rid of salt and relax blood vessels," Newton-Cheh explained.

"What's exciting about this study is that it proves that in human beings, natriuretic peptides are important in blood pressure," he said. "Until now, the finding has been limited to animals -- that if you take away the ANP gene in mic
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