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New genetic link to high blood pressure found

ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- A new genetic discovery made by a University of Michigan team may help explain why some people develop high blood pressure and others don't -- and why some people's blood pressure increases as they age.

It also gives new insight into how the kidneys govern the balance of salt in the body, a crucial task for regulating blood pressure. And, it reveals how a gene already linked to behavior and mental health can play a role in the body, as well as the brain.

In a paper published in the American Journal of Hypertension, U-M researchers report that blood pressure was higher, and more likely to rise with age, among people who had an extra-long form of a gene called DRD4.

They made the discovery by studying the genes of 864 people from 286 families taking part in a long-term blood pressure genetics study called GenNet. The families all live in or near the town of Tecumseh, Mich., which since 1958 has been home to a U-M clinical research initiative called the Tecumseh Community Health Study.

The finding of a link between DRD4 and blood pressure came as a surprise to researchers who tested this gene initially to look at genetics and behavior.

Cells use the DRD4 gene to make a receptor for a chemical called dopamine, which transmits messages between cells. Dopamine is best known for its role in the brain, where it is involved in feelings of pleasure, and in governing movement. Some studies have suggested that variations in genes for dopamine receptors are linked to certain behavioral traits or personality types.

But in recent years dopamine has also been found to play a role in regulating the release of salt by the kidneys. The new U-M finding adds more evidence for that role.

"While many genes are involved in blood pressure and the inherited risk of developing hypertension, we're learning that variations in genes for dopamine receptors play a significant role," says senior author Alan
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Contact: Kara Gavin
kegavin@umich.edu
734-764-2220
University of Michigan Health System
17-Oct-2005


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