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May 28, 2014 07:46 AM EDT

Stiff Arteries are the Culprit Behind High Blood Pressure

Norwegian University researchers have finally identified the culprit behind high blood pressure - stiff arteries. The researchers conducted experiments on a computer model of a "virtual human."

High blood pressure is age-related and affects one in every three adults, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Doctors are unable to determine the actual causes of 90 percent of the cases. High blood pressure is a major source of morbidity and mortality as individuals face a heightened risk of developing heart failure, stroke and kidney disease.

"Our results suggest that arterial stiffness represents a major therapeutic target. This is contrary to existing models, which typically explain high blood pressure in terms of defective kidney function," said Klas Pettersen, a researcher at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and first author of the study.

When blood pressure travels down the aorta from the heart, a group of cells in the aortic wall - baroreceptors - sense the pressure in this stretch of the aortic wall and transmits signals to the nervous system.

If the blood pressure is high, these cells emit stronger signals so that the body lowers blood pressure. However, as the aorta gets stiffer typically with age, the baroreceptors become insensitive and lose the ability to send signals. As a result, the body does not get the message to lower the blood pressure.

"If our hypothesis is proven right, arterial stiffness and baroreceptor signaling will become hotspot targets for the treatment of high blood pressure and the development of new medicines and medical devices," said Stig W. Omholt of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, who was the senior investigator of the research project.

The findings are published in PLOS Computational Biology.

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