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Inflammatory Genes Linked to Salt-Sensitive Hypertension

One key to your high blood pressure might just be your inflammatory genes.//

It may sound odd but mounting evidence suggests that inflammation, a part of the immune response implicated in diseases such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and diabetes, may also help translate stress into high blood pressure.

“There is a concept that hypertension is an inflammatory condition,” says Dr. Haidong Zhu, molecular geneticist at the Medical College of Georgia. She’s among the scientists who believe the connection between stress, inflammation and hypertension is the kidneys’ ability to release sodium.

When stress activates the sympathetic nervous system (the fight-or-flight mechanism), the body increases production of interleukin 6, a pro-inflammatory factor, which ultimately leads to production of other inflammatory factors such as C reactive protein.

Stress also prompts the body to hold onto sodium to help temporarily raise blood pressure so you can deal with the situation, says Dr. Gregory Harshfield, director of MCG’s Georgia Prevention Institute and an expert on what happens when the body doesn’t let go afterward. It’s called impaired stress-induced pressure natriuresis, which Dr. Harshfield has documented in young, healthy teens.

Dr. Zhu is now leading research to see if the reactions are related – if sodium handling goes awry under stress because the teens have mutations in four sets of stress-activated inflammatory genes: interleukin 6, interleukin 6 receptor, cytokine signal transducer and C-reactive protein.

“Our long-term goal is to be able to identify a subgroup of individuals with a certain genetic profile that has an increased risk of developing high blood pressure in a stressful environment,” says Dr. Zhu, who recently received a two-year, $300,000 grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

If she’s right, these individuals could likely benefit from targeted therapy that might i
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