New more effective treatments for high blood pressure could be possible thanks to the discovery that the nitric oxide that regulates blood pressure is formed in nerves rather than in the walls of blood vessels.
The surprising findings, published today in the journal Hypertension, from BHF-funded researchers at King’s College London, follows a world-first study in healthy humans, and builds on previous work that established the fundamental role that the gas nitric oxide plays in regulating blood pressure.
Blocking nitric oxide production
The study, which was also supported by the NIHR BRC at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust and King’s College London, treated healthy human subjects with a drug that prevented an enzyme in the nerves from producing nitric oxide.
Once the enzyme had stopped producing nitric oxide, the team were able to measure the impact the gas from that source has. To their surprise, reducing production of nitric oxide led to a significant increase in the force that opposes the flow of blood, known as vascular resistance, and blood pressure itself.
What this means for patients
Our Associate Medical Director, Professor Jeremy Pearson, said:
“The British Heart Foundation estimates that nearly 30 per cent of adults in the UK are living with high blood pressure, putting them at risk of having a heart attack or stroke. Understanding how blood pressure is regulated is crucial if we hope to develop new potential treatments to lower it.
“This study adds a very unexpected piece to the puzzle of blood pressure regulation. Whilst there are already many treatments for high blood pressure, they are not always effective. These results provide hope of new treatments for people with poorly controlled high blood pressure, which could prove crucial in preventing a heart attack or stroke.”
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