PURPOSE: Hypertension is a common precursor of serious disorders including stroke, myocardial infarction, congestive heart failure, and renal failure in whites and to a greater extent in African Americans. Large genetic-epidemiological studies of hypertension are needed to gain information that will improve future methods for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of hypertension, a major contributor to cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. METHODS: We report successful implementation of a new structure of research collaboration involving four NHLBI 'Networks,' coordinated under the Family Blood Pressure Program. The Hypertension Genetic Epidemiology Network (HyperGEN) involves scientists from six universities and the NHLBI who seek to identify and characterize genes promoting hypertension. Blood samples and clinical data were projected to be collected from a sample of 2244 hypertensive siblings diagnosed before age 60 from 960 sibships (half African-American) with two or more affected persons. Nonparametric sibship linkage analysis of over one million genotype determinations (20 candidate loci and 387 anonymous marker loci) was projected to have sufficient power for detecting genetic loci promoting hypertension. For loci showing evidence for linkage in this study and for loci reported linked or associated with hypertension by other groups, genotypes are compared in hypertensive cases versus population-based controls to identify or confirm genetic variants associated with hypertension. For some of these genetic variants associated with hypertension, detailed physiological and biochemical characterization of untreated adult offspring carriers versus non-carriers may help elucidate the pathophysiological mechanisms that promote hypertension. RESULTS: The projected sample size of 2244 hypertensive participants was surpassed, as 2407 hypertensive individuals (1262 African-Americans and 1145 whites) from 917 sibships were examined. Detailed consent forms were designed to offer participants several options for DNA testing; 94% of participants gave permission for DNA testing now or in the future for any confidential medical research, with only 6% requesting restrictions for tests performed on their DNA. Since this is a family study, participants also are asked to list all first degree relatives (along with names, addresses, and phone numbers) and to indicate for each relative whether they were willing to allow study staff to make a contact. Seventy percent gave permission to contact some relatives; about 30% gave permission to contact all first degree relatives; and less than 1% asked that no relatives be contacted. Successes after the first four years of this study include: 1) productive collaboration of eight centers from six different locations; 2) early achievement of recruitment goals for study participants including African-Americans; 3) an encouraging rate of consent for DNA testing (including future testing) and relative contacting; 4) completed analyses of genetic linkage and association for several candidate gene markers and polymorphisms; 5) completed genotyping of random markers for over half of the full sample; and 6) early sharing of results among the four Family Blood Pressure Program networks for candidate and genome search analyses. CONCLUSIONS: Experience after four years of this five-year program (1995-2000) suggests that the newly initiated NHLBI Network Program mechanism is fulfilling many of the expectations for which it was designed. It may serve as a paradigm for future genetic research that can benefit from large sample sizes, frequent sharing of ideas among laboratories, and prompt independent confirmation of early findings, which are required in the search for common genes with relatively small effects such as those that predispose to human hypertension.
- Blood Pressure