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Dangerous high blood pressure linked to signaling from brain to stem cells in bone marrow



MELBOURNE, (AU), November 2018 — High blood pressure, or hypertension, is thought to be a leading risk factor for heart disease, although the process by which it does so is not completely understood. But now scientists at the Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute in Melbourne have discovered that high blood pressure caused by specific signaling from the brain promotes heart disease by altering stem cells within the bone marrow. 

The results, published in Haematologica, demonstrate how an overactive sympathetic nervous system that causes elevated blood pressure can instruct bone marrow stem cells to produce more white blood cells that clog up blood vessels. 

The Baker Institute’s head of hematopoiesis and leukocyte biology, Andrew Murphy, Ph.D., says the findings represent a new era of heart disease research. 

“Hypertension is a major, independent risk factor of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, but we need more information to determine how it is resulting in heart attacks and strokes,” he said. (Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease is a build-up of cholesterol plaque in the walls of arteries, causing obstruction of blood flow.) 

“We now know that significant changes in the immune system contributes significantly to heart disease. We aimed to determine how the sympathetic nervous system through the brain directly promotes atherosclerosis in the setting of hypertension.

“We discovered that this form of high blood pressure, often associated with stress, causes changes within the bone marrow leading to increased white blood cells circulating though our vessels. This is significant as the general view of hypertension is that it is mainly a disease of the blood vessels, which means other heart damaging events are missed,” Dr. Murphy explained.

The team is now exploring the specific molecules involved, which may shed light as to why some current therapies are ineffective. They also suggest that managing stress, anxiety and pain are likely to help in controlling this form of hypertension and the effects it has on the body’s bone marrow stem cells.

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DOI: 10.3324/haematol.2018.192898