High Blood Pressure Caused By Salt Retention May Be Related To Oncogenes Implicated In Cancer

SAN FRANCISCO--Sodium transport - the kidney function that regulates the level of salt in the kidney and bloodstream and, ultimately, blood pressure, may be intimately related to some of the same oncogenes that have been implicated in the unchecked cellular growth of cancer. Douglas Eaton, Ph.D., associate professor of physiology and pediatrics at Emory University and director of Emory's Center for Cell and Molecular Signaling, presents the findings at the Experimental Biology '98 Meeting in San Francisco on Monday.

Dr. Eaton and his colleagues examined genetic, hormonal and pharmacologic changes that affect the sodium channels, which are special protein molecules found in a type of kidney cell. Sodium channels act as a gatekeeper by retaining salt in the kidney or by allowing it to enter the bloodstream in response to changes in blood pressure. Small alterations in these molecules cause them to retain too much salt, which can lead to high blood pressure. About 30 percent of people who have hypertension, or high blood pressure, are reacting to the buildup of too much sodium.

"If the sodium channels are too active," says Dr. Eaton, "then people retain sodium, causing water buildup and an abnormal rise in blood pressure."

Hypertension affects an estimated 62 million Americans and is an underlying cause of heart attacks, heart failure and strokes, as well as kidney failure. Some people have a specific, genetic abnormality that affects the sodium channels, but in other people there is nothing obviously wrong.

"In this other group of people, the sodium channels are switched on or off incorrectly by another molecule," says Dr. Eaton.

The steroid hormone aldosterone regulates how much sodium is released or retained by the sodium channels. In turn, steroid hormones like aldosterone work by switching on and off

Contact: Sarah Goodwin
Emory University Health Sciences Center

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