High blood pressure increases the risk of heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of death for Americans.
High blood pressure is also very common. Tens of millions of adults in the United States have high blood pressure, and many do not have it under control.
A recent study from the University of Virginia found a key contributor to high blood pressure that could lead to new treatments for a condition that affects almost half of American adults.
The discovery breaks new ground in the understanding of how the body regulates blood pressure.
It also shows how problems with this critical biological process drive high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.
High blood pressure is estimated to affect more than 116 million American adults.
In 2020, high blood pressure contributed to or caused more than 670,000 deaths in the United States, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports.
Left unchecked, the condition can damage the heart and increase the risk for stroke and other health problems.
Blood pressure is controlled, in part, by calcium levels in smooth muscle cells that line blood vessel walls. Smooth muscle cells transport calcium in and use it to regulate the contraction of blood vessels as needed.
High blood pressure is commonly treated with “calcium blockers” that reduce the movement of calcium, but these medications have many side effects because they block a mechanism that is used by multiple organs in the body for carrying out normal functions.
So a treatment option that targets the harmful effects of calcium, but not its beneficial effects, could be very helpful for patients with high blood pressure.
In the study, the team discovered two critical—and previously unknown—signaling centers in smooth muscle cells that bring in calcium and regulate blood pressure.
These “nanodomains,” the researchers found, act like symphony conductors for blood vessels, directing them to contract or relax as needed.
These signaling centers, the researchers determined, are key regulators of healthy blood pressure.
Further, the scientists found that disruptions in this process contribute to high blood pressure. In both mouse models of the disease and hypertensive patients, the fine balance between the constrictor and dilator signaling centers is lost.
This caused the blood vessels to become too constricted, driving up blood pressure.
The new findings help scientists better understand how our bodies maintain proper blood pressure and provide enticing targets for scientists seeking to develop treatments targeting underlying causes of high blood pressure.
Developing treatments that do not affect the beneficial effects of calcium will require additional research and a deeper understanding of the calcium-use process.
The study was published in Circulation.
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