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University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center
Publish Date: 10/07/99
Media Contact: AHC Public Relations, (513) 558-4553
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Variant Gene May Cause Hypertension in African-Americans

CincinnatióResearchers at the University of Cincinnati (UC) College of Medicine are trying to determine if what started as an advantageous genetic mutation in native Africans may cause hypertension in blacks in the United States. According to Anil Menon, PhD, associate professor of molecular genetics, individuals in Africa developed a variant in the gene that controls the transport of sodium. People with this variant gene known as the sodium channel gene, conserve more sodium and water in their bodies to help them survive the heat and arid conditions of Saharan Africa.

More than 30 years ago, researchers thought that these arid conditions might account for the increased selection of variant genes for salt and water conservation in these populations. The additional sodium and water in the body increases blood volume, resulting in high blood pressure.

The sodium channel in the kidney is a crucial control point for the balance of water, sodium, and hypertension. Researchers in Menon's lab have found a variation in this channel that is present in people of African ancestry. The UC team of researchers include Yan Ru Su, MD, molecular genetics research associate; Max Reif, MD, associate professor of internal medicine/hypertension; Raymond Pun, PhD, molecular and cell physiology research associate professor; and post doctoral fellow Shodimu Olufemi. These researchers believe that the genetic predisposition to hypertension in African Americans may extend to other desert populations such as Arabians and South American desert Indians.

This research combines genetics and physiology to understand the role of sodium and fluid retention. More importantly, it may shed light on why African-Americans have a greater incidence of high blood pressure. "We know that high blood pressure increases the risk of heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure, and certain kinds of blindness," says Menon. "Knowing more about genetic influences will help us design better, individual-specific drug treatments for cardiovascular disease."

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