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Adv Physiol Educ. 2014 Mar;38(1):20-4. doi: 10.1152/advan.00063.2013.

The immune system in hypertension.

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Division of Clinical Pharmacology, Department of Medicine, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, Nashville, Tennessee.


While hypertension has predominantly been attributed to perturbations of the vasculature, kidney, and central nervous system, research for almost 50 yr has shown that the immune system also contributes to this disease. Inflammatory cells accumulate in the kidneys and vasculature of humans and experimental animals with hypertension and likely contribute to end-organ damage. We and others have shown that mice lacking adaptive immune cells, including recombinase-activating gene-deficient mice and rats and mice with severe combined immunodeficiency have blunted hypertension to stimuli such as ANG II, high salt, and norepinephrine. Adoptive transfer of T cells restores the blood pressure response to these stimuli. Agonistic antibodies to the ANG II receptor, produced by B cells, contribute to hypertension in experimental models of preeclampsia. The central nervous system seems important in immune cell activation, because lesions in the anteroventral third ventricle block hypertension and T cell activation in response to ANG II. Likewise, genetic manipulation of reactive oxygen species in the subfornical organ modulates both hypertension and immune cell activation. Current evidence indicates that the production of cytokines, including tumor necrosis factor-α, interleukin-17, and interleukin-6, contribute to hypertension, likely via effects on both the kidney and vasculature. In addition, the innate immune system also appears to contribute to hypertension. We propose a working hypothesis linking the sympathetic nervous system, immune cells, production of cytokines, and, ultimately, vascular and renal dysfunction, leading to the augmentation of hypertension. Studies of immune cell activation will clearly be useful in understanding this common yet complex disease.


T cell; angiotensin; costimulation; cytokines; subfornical organ

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