Blood pressure ‘barometer’ found after 60 years, U.Va. scientists say

Researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine say they’ve found the body’s natural blood-pressure barometers — a feat that has escaped scientists for more than 60 years.

A news release Tuesday describes the “cellular sensors” as being able to detect subtle changes in blood pressure and adjust hormone levels to keep it in check.

Scientists believed the barometers, called baroreceptors, existed in specialized kidney cells called renin cells, but nobody could find them before Dr. Maria Luisa S. Sequeira-Lopez, who works in the university’s Department of Pediatrics and Child Health Research Center, and her colleagues.

“It was exhilarating to find that the elusive pressure-sensing mechanism, the baroreceptor, was intrinsic to the renin cell, which has the ability to sense and react, both within the same cell,” Sequeira-Lopez said. “So the renin cells are sensors and responders.”

When the baroreceptors detect too much pressure outside the renin cell, the production of renin — a hormone that helps regulate blood pressure — is restricted. When the baroreceptors detect that blood pressure is too low, they prompt the production of more renin.

This is the mechanism that allows the body to maintain the correct blood pressure.

“I feel really excited about this discovery, a real tour de force several years in the making. We had a great collaboration with Dr. [Douglas] DeSimone from the Department of Cell Biology,” Sequeira-Lopez said.

“I am also excited with the work to come,” she added, saying that scientists can “use the information to develop therapies for hypertension.”

The findings have been published online in the scientific journal Circulation Research.

Will Vitka

William Vitka is a Digital Editor and reporter for WTOP.com. He's been in the news industry for over a decade. Before joining WTOP, he worked for CBS News, Stuff Magazine, The New York Post and wrote a variety of books—about a dozen of them, with more to come.

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