David H. Ellison, M.D., and a team of international collaborators have been awarded a $6 million Transatlantic Network of Excellence grant from the Fondation LeDucq. They will examine how the kidney handles potassium and why blood pressure is so sensitive to changes in dietary potassium.
Each year, hypertension causes an estimated 7.5 million deaths worldwide, about 12.8 percent of all deaths, according to the World Health Organization. The condition is rooted in complex genetic and environmental interactions. On the environmental side, high-sodium diets are considered a primary contributor, although growing evidence indicates that low-potassium diets also play an important role.
Ellison, director of the OHSU Oregon Clinical and Translational Research Institute, Paul Welling, M.D., University of Maryland at Baltimore, and members of the Transatlantic Network of Excellence team previously helped explain the mechanisms underlying the effects of potassium. They helped define “the renal potassium switch” and its implications for prevention and treatment of hypertension. Their work indicates that diets low in potassium, common in high-income countries, activate the switch pathway to conserve potassium at the expense of increasing sodium retention — ultimately contributing to higher blood pressure.
The Transatlantic Network of Excellence grant will fund the team’s further research on the molecular, structural and physiologic basis of the sodium-potassium pathway, as well as its genetic determinants. The ultimate goal is to begin identifying key regulators of the pathway.
Find out more about the project on OHSU News.