STK39 Gene Determines How Kidneys Control Blood Pressure

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
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Scientists have possibly unraveled the underpinnings of an important contributor to high blood pressure, a global problem that decreases longevity and leads to multiple cardiovascular complications. According to new research, the STK39 gene, found in one out of five people, makes us more susceptible to how our kidneys control blood pressure.

Research has previously uncovered the role of proteins on blood pressure, by using atomic force microscopy to observe which proteins make blood vessels become more narrow, and which proteins open, or dilate the blood vessels to lower blood pressure. Research, conducted earlier this year from the University of Missouri, led by Gerald Meininger, professor and director of MU’s Dalton Cardiovascular Research Center, was the first study to uncover how proteins affect blood pressure.

The newest study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, takes things a step further. STK39 gene mutation sets off an abnormal reaction with proteins in the kidneys. The result is faulty excretion of sodium, or salt by the kidneys.

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The genetic mutation was discovered through the worldwide genome project, which looked at hundreds of individuals across the United States and Europe. The scientists focused on the Amish community, studying the genetics of 542 individuals. The scientists found a definite link the STK39 gene that produces proteins that control the way the kidneys process salt. The researchers also found consistent results in non-Amish individuals.

The research, conducted at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, was led by Yen-Pei Christy Chang. The STK39 gene discovery is considered a scientific breakthrough.

The current research likely explains why many people with hypertension are resistant to blood pressure treatment, even with lifestyle changes. Physicians often have a difficult time finding drugs to lower blood pressure within acceptable range. Current recommendations from the American Heart Association show your blood pressure should be less than 120/80. The consequences of high blood pressure leads to heart disease and kidney damage.

New drugs that alter the way the kidneys process salt in the presence of the STK39 gene can now be developed because of the new research.

Abstract: Whole-genome association study identifies STK39 as a hypertension susceptibility gene

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