University of Maryland research reveals true target of calcium channel blockers

Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine have discovered that calcium channel blockers--widely used to treat heart problems and high blood pressure--work differently than previously thought. Their findings, published in the December issue of the American Journal of Physiology, may open the door to a different approach to treatment, with new, more effective medications that have a more precise therapeutic focus than current treatments.

The researchers found that calcium channel blockers primarily affect a group of cellular calcium channels in small arteries called "store-operated" channels. Prior to this discovery, scientists thought the blockers selectively affected what are known as "voltage-gated" channels.

"Our research has significant implications for the future treatment of heart disease and hypertension," says the study's senior author, Mordecai P. Blaustein, M.D., professor and chair of the Department of Physiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. "Armed with this knowledge, it should be possible to look for a new class of drugs that would cause fewer side effects."

"There are some observations that are a leap forward, not merely an incremental step," says C. William Balke, M.D., professor of medicine and physiology and head of the Division of Cardiology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical Center. "This could easily be a leap. It certainly could change our paradigm for the treatment of hypertension," adds Dr. Balke.

Calcium, a mineral, is essential for the functioning of a number of systems in the body, including the pumping action of the heart and the contraction and relaxation of the smooth muscles that line blood vessel walls to regulate blood pressure. Too much tone or constriction can cause small arteries to narrow and increase their resistance to blood flow, leading to high blood pressure and forcing the heart to work harder.

Contact: Larry Roberts
University of Maryland Medical Center

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