There is a well-recognized association between weight gain and increased blood pressure. Each weight category is associated with a higher risk of hypertension, with obese individuals at the greatest risk. The management of hypertension in obese individuals can often be difficult to manage, in part because the link between obesity and hypertension is not well understood.
A study published by Shin et al. in Circulation Research this week, highlights a new mechanism which may explain the higher blood pressure in obese individuals. The key player in this discovery is a signalling molecule known as leptin. It plays a role in the brain to control appetite and metabolism in response to food, and is found in high levels in obese individuals.
Using mouse models, researchers were able to show that leptin has peripheral effects on carotid bodies, and it is through this mechanism that it plays a role in increasing blood pressure. They demonstrated that lean mice given high doses of leptin had an increase in blood pressure, whereas lean or obese mice with leptin receptors knocked out had normal blood pressure that increased when a functioning leptin receptor was introduced.
These findings suggest that targets which block the function of leptin in carotid bodies could help lower blood pressure in obese individuals. Although more data is needed to understand the implications these findings will eventually have in humans, it is exciting to wonder whether a new hypertension treatment could be on the horizon. We look forward to seeing how the clinical potential of this pathway evolves!