Genetics

Pressure Under Pressure

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Science  16 Dec 2005:
Vol. 310, Issue 5755, pp. 1745
DOI: 10.1126/science.310.5755.1745a

Hypertension is an extremely common disorder that, left untreated, can lead to stroke, heart disease, and kidney failure. Individuals of African descent are at greater risk of developing high blood pressure than are those of European descent, and this may reflect adaptations to distinct environmental selection pressures experienced by ancestral populations. For example, ancient human populations living in hot humid climates where salt was scarce would likely have a physiology adapted to maximize salt retention (which would concomitantly increase blood vessel tone), but this selective pressure would be lost once populations moved to cooler regions.

Young et al. present genetic data consistent with the hypothesis that differential susceptibility to hypertension among modern humans is due to climatic adaptation during the out-of-Africa expansion. Studying worldwide variation in five genes implicated in blood pressure regulation, they find that the prevalence of allelic variants that would increase heat adaptation (and hence hypertension susceptibility) is significantly greater in populations living at low latitudes or in hot wet climates than in those at high latitudes or cold dry climates. In addition, using data from an epidemiologic study of blood pressure in 52 different populations, they conclude that a major portion of the worldwide variation in blood pressure can be accounted for by latitude and a variant allele of GNB3, the beta-3 subunit of guanine nucleotide-binding protein. — PAK

PLoS Genet. 10.1371/journal.pgen.0010082.eor (2005).

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