Scientists identify genetic links to high blood pressure

Published: 14 May 2009

An international scientific study involving researchers from Glasgow has identified eight common genetic differences which may increase the risk of high blood pressure.

An international scientific study involving researchers from the University of Glasgow has identified eight common genetic differences which may increase the risk of high blood pressure.

The University researchers, led by Professor Anna Dominiczak and Professor John Connell, contributed to the global study of genes in high blood pressure through participation in the Medical Research Council’s British Genetics of Hypertension study.
High blood pressure – or hypertension – affects at least eighteen million people in the UK and is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Although lifestyle factors such as smoking and diet can raise blood pressure, it also runs in families suggesting a genetic link.
The genes identified by the researchers are thought to influence blood pressure in different ways: for example, through the production of chemicals, known as steroids, which affect how the kidneys process salt; or how the blood vessels regulate blood pressure.
Although the effect of each of the new gene variants is small, when combined their influence could significantly raise a person’s risk of stroke or heart attack.
The role of steroid hormones in controlling hypertension is one of the key areas studied within  the British Heart Foundation Glasgow Cardiovascular Research Centre at the University. 

Prof Connell, a senior researcher and Professor of Endocrinology, whose research group has a particular interest in steroids and blood pressure, said: “This latest study increases understanding of the underlying causes of high blood pressure, why some people are more susceptible to it than others and opens up further avenues for research into potential treatments. 

“It is important to stress that environmental factors also play a big part so diet, smoking and weight control all important methods of controlling high blood pressure.”
In the new study, scientists looked at the human genome for genetic variations affecting blood pressure. They compared 2.5 million genetic variants from more than 34,000 people with measurements of their blood pressure. They found eight genetic differences linked to changes in blood pressure.
The study, published in Nature Genetics, involved over 150 scientists from 93 centres in Europe and the USA with funding from a variety of sources including the Medical Research Council, the British Heart Foundation and the Wellcome Trust.

For further information contact Stuart Forsyth in the Media Relations Office of the University of Glasgow on 0141 330 4831 or


  • High blood pressure affects one billion people worldwide and causes at least seven million deaths each year.
  • Blood pressure is a combination of two measurements – the highest point, known as the systolic blood pressure, reflects the pressure at which blood is expelled from the heart. Every time the heart expels blood it must rest and fill again. During this time a second reading is taken, the diastolic blood pressure, this more closely reflects how narrow the blood vessels are in the circulation. A normal measurement should be below 120/80 mmHg (millimetres of mercury).
  • The World Health Organisation defines high blood pressure as readings sustained on several occasions above 140/90 mm Hg.
  • The researchers say that at this time there is no case for genetic testing.

First published: 14 May 2009

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