Dietary salt increases blood pressure in some people, putting them at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and death.
In a study from Vanderbilt University, scientists found that activation of the NLRP3 inflammasome—a protein complex involved in the inflammatory response—in immune cells contributes to salt-sensitive hypertension.
The findings suggest new ways to diagnose and treat this condition.
About 50% of people who have high blood pressure have an exaggerated increase in blood pressure after consuming a salty meal, as do 25% of people with normal blood pressure.
The increase in blood pressure in response to salt can be significant enough to cause a heart attack, stroke, and even sudden cardiac death, and yet it’s undiagnosed and goes untreated. It’s a silent killer.
The researchers have been exploring the novel role of immune cells in salt-sensitive hypertension.
In the study, they found that the NLRP3 inflammasome in a specific subtype of monocytes (immune cells) changed dynamically in salt-sensitive people, increasing with salt intake and blood pressure.
With data from human volunteers in hand, the researchers turned to mouse models to study the mechanism.
They found inhibiting or removing the inflammasome eliminated the salt sensitivity of blood pressure and adding it back (by transferring blood cells) restored salt sensitivity.
The team says that it might be possible to develop a blood test for salt sensitivity of blood pressure.
Doctors could look at inflammasome activation in these immune cells as a potential biomarker to find out if a patient—with or without high blood pressure—is salt-sensitive or not.
That could give them another tool for reducing someone’s cardiovascular risks in the future.
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The study was conducted by Annet Kirabo et al and published in Circulation Research.
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