Finding such a gene could have several benefits for African-Americans and other ethnic groups. One is that by knowing the normal role of the gene, doctors can better understand the disease and devise new drugs or treatments to keep blood pressure under control. It could also lead to genetic tests to help identify people at higher risk of heart disease.
The work takes advantage of genetic differences between people of African and European descent to home in on the location of the gene or genes. Future research will be needed to pinpoint exactly which genes in these regions are the culprit in heart disease risk.
"These regions have hundreds of genes, so it will take some time to whittle it down," said Neil Risch, PhD, a UCSF geneticist who did the work while he was a professor of genetics at Stanford. The study by Risch, Xiaofeng Zhu, PhD, at Loyola University Medical Center, and other colleagues is published in the Jan. 23 online issue of Nature Genetics.
The study examined people with high blood pressure, a disease that kills roughly 50,000 people nationwide each year. People with this condition are more prone to heart attacks, strokes and kidney damage.
Doctors have known for many years that in the United States people of African descent are more likely to develop high blood pressure - also called hypertension - than people of European or Asian descent, but it hasn't been clear how much of that risk is due to differences in diet, exercise, socioeconomic status, genetics or a combination of these factors.
Risch and his colleagues got to the heart of the question with the h