Monday, 20 September 2010

Blood vessels don’t forget

Here BHF Professor, Mark Hanson, from University of Southampton gives us an insight into his research into blood pressure, and how we’re all a chip off the old block.

Blood vessels don’t forget

Like the plumbing in a house, our circulation is made up of a network of pipes. They deliver blood, oxygen and nutrients to every tissue in our bodies. However, unlike the rigid pipework in a house, our blood vessels are sensitive and responsive. They expand and contract to regulate our blood pressure and blood flow according to the needs of our bodies.

Our vessels control blood pressure day to day, month to month, keeping it surprisingly steady in each of us. But just like many other aspects of our bodies, people differ in their pressures and flows. So how do blood vessels know how to cope with our differences?

Part of the answer is that they learn on the job. What teaches them? It turns out to be growing up – our life in the womb before we are born, and then our early years as infants and young children.

As our bodies grow, so do our blood vessels. And as they grow they are exposed to many things - diet, hormones, stress, and more. Many of these things come from the mother, in signals which cross the placenta or in her milk. This is why a healthy lifestyle and diet is so important during pregnancy and childhood.

The settings our blood vessels learn affect how they respond to the challenges of our lives later – what we eat, how much we exercise, whether we smoke or drink too much alcohol, and so on. As we get older, these settings have a great influence on whether we remain healthy or get cardiovascular disease, and explain partly why the risk of disease varies between individuals.

We’re beginning to understand how the memory of our early lives is stored in our blood vessels. What happens in the womb doesn’t change the DNA we inherit from our parents, but it does appear to affect the way DNA works in the lining and muscular walls of our blood vessels. These changes are called epigenetic processes.

Our new knowledge about epigenetics holds out hope for future prevention of cardiovascular disease. Epigenetic changes occur in early life, so by measuring them we may be able to tell how large the risk of disease will be in a person many years later. Or we might be able to devise new treatments, personalised to each of us, and monitor how well they work.

Epigenetic ‘marks’ on our DNA are like memories of our early lives which stay with us for years – our blood vessels don’t forget.

1 comment:

bob briggs said...

Good information and useful for those being checked but does it mean that if you are in your 50's with high BP then that is that your vessels have learnt it when you were in the womb and there is nothing[other than taking another pill] that will improve the condition??

Bob briggs