White Blood Cells and Blood Pressure: A Mendelian Randomization Study

Circulation. 2020 Apr 21;141(16):1307-1317. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.119.045102. Epub 2020 Mar 9.


Background: High blood pressure (BP) is a risk factor for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. While BP is regulated by the function of kidney, vasculature, and sympathetic nervous system, recent experimental data suggest that immune cells may play a role in hypertension.

Methods: We studied the relationship between major white blood cell types and blood pressure in the UK Biobank population and used Mendelian randomization (MR) analyses using the ≈750 000 UK-Biobank/International Consortium of Blood Pressure-Genome-Wide Association Studies to examine which leukocyte populations may be causally linked to BP.

Results: A positive association between quintiles of lymphocyte, monocyte, and neutrophil counts, and increased systolic BP, diastolic BP, and pulse pressure was observed (eg, adjusted systolic BP mean±SE for 1st versus 5th quintile respectively: 140.13±0.08 versus 141.62±0.07 mm Hg for lymphocyte, 139.51±0.08 versus 141.84±0.07 mm Hg for monocyte, and 137.96±0.08 versus 142.71±0.07 mm Hg for neutrophil counts; all P<10-50). Using 121 single nucleotide polymorphisms in MR, implemented through the inverse-variance weighted approach, we identified a potential causal relationship of lymphocyte count with systolic BP and diastolic BP (causal estimates: 0.69 [95% CI, 0.19-1.20] and 0.56 [95% CI, 0.23-0.90] of mm Hg per 1 SD genetically elevated lymphocyte count, respectively), which was directionally concordant to the observational findings. These inverse-variance weighted estimates were consistent with other robust MR methods. The exclusion of rs3184504 SNP in the SH2B3 locus attenuated the magnitude of the signal in some of the MR analyses. MR in the reverse direction found evidence of positive effects of BP indices on counts of monocytes, neutrophils, and eosinophils but not lymphocytes or basophils. Subsequent MR testing of lymphocyte count in the context of genetic correlation with renal function or resting and postexercise heart rate demonstrated a positive association of lymphocyte count with urine albumin-to-creatinine ratio.

Conclusions: Observational and genetic analyses demonstrate a concordant, positive and potentially causal relationship of lymphocyte count with systolic BP and diastolic BP.

Keywords: Mendelian randomization analysis; blood pressure; hypertension; white blood cells.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing / genetics*
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Blood Pressure / genetics*
  • Female
  • Genetic Loci*
  • Genome-Wide Association Study
  • Humans
  • Hypertension* / genetics
  • Hypertension* / physiopathology
  • Leukocyte Count
  • Male
  • Mendelian Randomization Analysis*
  • Middle Aged
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide*
  • United Kingdom


  • Adaptor Proteins, Signal Transducing
  • SH2B3 protein, human