High blood pressure is particularly prevalent in blacks, heavy drinkers, women taking oral contraceptives, and those who are middle-aged, elderly or obese.
Though high blood pressure is easily detected and usually controllable with daily medication, doctors are unsure whether this treatment reverses other hypertension-induced changes in the body, such as heart and kidney damage.
In the UF study, researchers treated rats genetically predisposed to high blood pressure with antisense, a form of DNA in which the normal genetic code is reversed. The antisense is packaged within an inactivated, harmless virus called a retrovirus and injected into the bloodstream. The antisense interacts with the cell wall to reduce the potentially harmful effects of the angiotensin II hormone. High blood pressure and organ damage were prevented in all of the animals in which the treatment was successfully delivered.
"There are a number of pathophysiological changes associated with high blood pressure, and we chose to look at six," said Gelband, an assistant professor of physiology in the UF College of Medicine. "All six of these problems were prevented. We now plan to study whether gene therapy can reverse organ damage in adult animals with high blood pressure."
Gene therapy studies for high blood pressure have been under way at UF for a number of years. M. Ian Phillips, professor and College of Medicine physiology department chairman, previously has shown gene therapy can reduce high blood pressure in adult animals.
Jeffrey Martens, a graduate student in pharmacology and the current paper's lead author, said gene therapy may someday offer an alternative treatment for people genetically predisposed to high blood pressure.