Study leader Dr. TanYa Gwathmey of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center looked at the activity of enzymes associated with two peptides -- called angiotensins -- that help regulate blood pressure.
One enzyme helped produce the angiotensin that helped the body retain salt and water and to constrict blood vessels -- characteristics promoting high blood pressure. However, the riskier angiotensin could be converted by another enzyme to a more protective angiotensin that helped let the body release water and open blood vessels -- lowering blood pressure.
Gwathmey and colleagues studied enzyme levels in African-American boys and girls and Caucasian girls -- all having normal blood pressure. The African-American boys had more of the enzyme contributing to high blood pressure and the African-American girls had less of the enzyme protecting against high blood pressure.
"What is really interesting to me is that we are seeing changes in angiotensin metabolism before blood pressure changes," Gwathmey said in a statement. "This could become a useful tool for predicting high pressure and potential therapeutic treatment before hypertension actually sets in."
The findings were presented at the annual Experimental Biology conference in Anaheim, Calif.