Research funded by the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the British Heart Foundation (BHF) has suggested a new avenue for future drug treatments aimed at controlling high blood pressure.

The research published in the latest edition of the journal Circulation suggests that the potassium channel Kv7.4 could play a key role in regulating the constriction or dilation of blood vessels in animal models and, by implication, in maintaining healthy blood pressure, the BBSRC said.

A team led by Dr Iain Greenwood from St George’s, University of London studied rodents with high blood pressure and discovered that in some cases the Kv7.4 channels in the walls of the animals’ blood vessels were not functioning properly.

The channels allow the release of potassium from the muscle cells in blood vessels, and they have to be opened and closed at the right times for the muscles to contract or relax as needed, the BBSRC explained.

If the Kv7.4 channels cannot function, “the muscle cells overreact to the signals the body is giving to increase blood pressure”, Dr Greenwood added. “We think that in the animals we studied the redundant Kv7.4 channels contributed markedly to their high blood pressure.”

Whilst it is “extremely unlikely” that most people with high blood pressure have defective Kv7.4 channels, the researchers hope that understanding the role played by these channels in maintaining healthy blood pressure will help to develop new strategies for adjusting blood pressure using drug treatments, the BBSRC noted.