Identifying those regions is just a first step toward better prevention and treatment of high blood pressure, Newton-Cheh and Levy said.
One reason is that each of the regions may individually exert only a small effect on blood pressure, Levy said: "Each of the risk variants changes systolic blood pressure by 1 millimeter and diastolic pressure by one-half millimeter," he said. Systolic blood pressure is the higher number in a blood pressure reading, diastolic the lower number.
"But it is possible that there are genes that have a profound effect on blood pressure in these regions," Levy said. "Digging more deeply could identify variants in these genes that have larger effects on blood pressure."
Answers may come from research with animal models of high blood pressure, he said. "One can do work with animals that can't be done with humans," Levy said.
Human trials can also help, Newton-Cheh said. "I am planning studies of people to understand which genes affect blood pressure and how," he said. "My group, among others, will try to identify a small number of people who have strong mutations. Those people are of great interest."
The hope is that drug companies will be drawn into the genetic research effort by the lure of profits from more effective blood pressure treatments, Newton-Cheh said. "They have lots of things on their shelves, and this offers potential leads for testing compounds that could lead to drugs," he said.
While research goes on, it is too early to recommend genetic screening for high blood pressure, Newton-Cheh said. "From the data we have now, there is no way we could advocate that people be tested," he said. "It will require some work to prove how genes affect blood pressure."
All rights reserved