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Med Hypotheses. 2006;66(5):1000-7. Epub 2006 Jan 24.

Essential hypertension seems to result from melatonin-induced epigenetic modifications in area postrema.

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  • 1Department of Histology and Embryology, School of Medicine, Gulhane Military Medical Academy, GATA Histoloji AD, Etlik Ankara, Turkey. mkirmak@gata,edu,tr


Essential hypertension is a complex multifactorial disorder with epigenetic and environmental factors contributing to its prevalence. Epigenetic system is a genetic regulatory mechanism that allows humans to maintain extraordinarily stable patterns of gene expression over many generations. Sympathetic nervous system plays a major role in the maintenance of hypertension and the rostral ventrolateral medulla is the main source of this sympathetic activation. A possible mechanism to explain the sympathetic hyperactivity in the rostral ventrolateral medulla is an action of the area postrema. Area postrema seems to be the region where a shift of the set-point to a higher operating pressure occurs resulting in hypertension. But, how can a shift occur in the area postrema. We propose that melatonin-induced epigenetic modifications in the neurons of area postrema plays a role in this shift. Area postrema is reported to contain high levels of melatonin receptors that play a role in the epigenetic modifications in certain cells. Environmental stressors cause epigenetic modifications in the neurons of area postrema via the pineal hormone melatonin and these changes lead to a shift in the set-point to a higher operating pressure. This signal is then sent via efferent projections to key medullary sympathetic nuclei in rostral ventrolateral medulla resulting in increases in sympathetic nerve activity. This model may explain the long-term alterations in sympathetic activity in essential hypertension.

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