"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," says Klas Pettersen, a researcher at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences and first author of the study, recently published in
High blood pressure is a major source of morbidity and mortality, because it makes individuals more prone to heart failure, stroke and kidney disease.
When blood pressure travels down the aorta from the heart, a special group of cells in the aortic wall, called baroreceptors, sense the pressure in this stretch of the aortic wall and send signals with this information to the nervous system.
If the blood pressure is too high, these cells send stronger signals and the body is able to lower blood pressure. However, if the aorta gets stiffer, as typically happens with age, this stretch of the aorta is not as sensitive as it once was in measuring blood pressure. Thus, although a person's blood pressure may have increased, the baroreceptors do not signal as intensively as they should and the body does not get the message to lower blood pressure.
"With the stiffening of the wall that follows ageing, these sensors become less able to send signals that reflect the actual blood pressure. Our mathematical model predicts the quantitative effects of this process on blood pressure," says Pettersen.