Untreated hypertension decreases heritability of cognition in late middle age

Terrie Vasilopoulos, William S. Kremen, Kathleen Kim, Matthew S. Panizzon, Phyllis K. Stein, Hong Xian, Michael D. Grant, Michael J. Lyons, Rosemary Toomey, Lindon J. Eaves, Carol E. Franz, Kristen C. Jacobson

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9 Scopus citations


Hypertension is a risk factor for cognitive decline, but the mechanisms underlying the effects of hypertension on cognition, particularly in midlife, are unclear. We examined whether hypertension modifies genetic influences on individual differences in cognition. Nine cognitive domains and general cognitive ability were assessed in a sample of 1,237 male twins aged 51-60 who were divided into three blood pressure groups: non-hypertensive; medicated hypertensive; and unmedicated hypertensive. Heritability was significantly lower among unmedicated hypertensives compared to medicated hypertensives and non-hypertensives for visual-spatial ability (p = 0.013) and episodic memory (p = 0.004). There were no heritability differences between non-hypertensives and medicated hypertensives. In addition, there were no significant differences in mean level cognition across the three blood pressure groups. These results suggest that in middle-aged men, untreated hypertension suppresses normal genetic influences on individual differences in certain domains of cognition prior to the emergence of hypertension-related effects on cognitive performance. These results further suggest that antihypertensive medication may protect against or reverse this effect.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-120
Number of pages14
JournalBehavior genetics
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012


  • Aging
  • Cognition
  • Heritability
  • Hypertension
  • Twins


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