Hypertension is the most prevalent risk factor for cardiovascular diseases, present in almost 30% of adults. A key element in the control of vascular tone is the large-conductance, Ca(2+)-dependent K(+) (BK) channel. The BK channel in vascular smooth muscle is formed by an ion-conducting alpha subunit and a regulatory beta(1) subunit, which couples local increases in intracellular Ca(2+) to augmented channel activity and vascular relaxation. Our large population-based genetic epidemiological study has identified a new single-nucleotide substitution (G352A) in the beta(1) gene (KCNMB1), corresponding to an E65K mutation in the protein. This mutation results in a gain of function of the channel and is associated with low prevalence of moderate and severe diastolic hypertension. BK-beta(1E65K) channels showed increased Ca(2+) sensitivity, compared with wild-type channels, without changes in channel kinetics. In conclusion, the BK-beta(1E65K) channel might offer a more efficient negative-feedback effect on vascular smooth muscle contractility, consistent with a protective effect of the K allele against the severity of diastolic hypertension.