Global study reveals new hypertension and blood pressure genes

Thirty-one new gene regions linked with blood pressure have been identified in one of the largest genetic studies of blood pressure to date, involving over 347,000 people, and jointly led by Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) and the University of Cambridge, with researchers from our University.

The discoveries include DNA changes in three genes that have much larger effects on blood pressure in the population than previously seen, providing new insights into the physiology of hypertension and suggesting new targets for treatment.

High blood pressure or hypertension is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and premature death. It is estimated to be responsible for a larger proportion of global disease burden and premature mortality than any other disease risk factor. However, there is limited knowledge on the genetics of blood pressure.

The teams investigated the genotypes of around 347,000 people and their health records to find links between their genetic make-up and cardiovascular health. The study brought together around 200 investigators from across 15 countries. 

Most genetic blood pressure discoveries until now have been of common genetic variants that have small effects on blood pressure. The study, published in Nature Genetics, has found variants in three genes that appear to be rare in the population, but have up to twice the effect on blood pressure.

Dr Louise Wain from the Leicester Institute of Precision Medicine co-led the genetic analysis and said: “This study provides essential information for precision medicine, allowing groups of patients with a particular genetic profile to be treated with a targeted therapy at the earliest time to prevent hypertension. The first-class high performance computing facilities at the University of Leicester were invaluable for the analysis of the very large data sets used in this study.”

The Leicester Precision Medicine Institute coalesces and aligns the research missions of the University and NHS. As a Centre of Excellence, it will develop, evaluate and implement prevention and treatment based on unique characteristics of individuals and subgroups of the population to provide more effective and safer healthcare and improved health to our diverse population.

The study was also funded by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), National Institute of Health (NIH), Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council.