Using Genetics to Inform Interventions Related to Sodium and Potassium in Hypertension

Circulation. 2024 Mar 26;149(13):1019-1032. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.123.065394. Epub 2023 Dec 22.


Background: Hypertension is a key risk factor for major adverse cardiovascular events but remains difficult to treat in many individuals. Dietary interventions are an effective approach to lower blood pressure (BP) but are not equally effective across all individuals. BP is heritable, and genetics may be a useful tool to overcome treatment response heterogeneity. We investigated whether the genetics of BP could be used to identify individuals with hypertension who may receive a particular benefit from lowering sodium intake and boosting potassium levels.

Methods: In this observational genetic study, we leveraged cross-sectional data from up to 296 475 genotyped individuals drawn from the UK Biobank cohort for whom BP and urinary electrolytes (sodium and potassium), biomarkers of sodium and potassium intake, were measured. Biologically directed genetic scores for BP were constructed specifically among pathways related to sodium and potassium biology (pharmagenic enrichment scores), as well as unannotated genome-wide scores (conventional polygenic scores). We then tested whether there was a gene-by-environment interaction between urinary electrolytes and these genetic scores on BP.

Results: Genetic risk and urinary electrolytes both independently correlated with BP. However, urinary sodium was associated with a larger BP increase among individuals with higher genetic risk in sodium- and potassium-related pathways than in those with comparatively lower genetic risk. For example, each SD in urinary sodium was associated with a 1.47-mm Hg increase in systolic BP for those in the top 10% of the distribution of genetic risk in sodium and potassium transport pathways versus a 0.97-mm Hg systolic BP increase in the lowest 10% (P=1.95×10-3). This interaction with urinary sodium remained when considering estimated glomerular filtration rate and indexing sodium to urinary creatinine. There was no strong evidence of an interaction between urinary sodium and a standard genome-wide polygenic score of BP.

Conclusions: The data suggest that genetic risk in sodium and potassium pathways could be used in a precision medicine model to direct interventions more specifically in the management of hypertension. Intervention studies are warranted.

Keywords: genetics; hypertension; potassium; precision medicine; sodium.

Publication types

  • Observational Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Blood Pressure / genetics
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Electrolytes
  • Humans
  • Hypertension* / diagnosis
  • Hypertension* / genetics
  • Potassium / urine
  • Sodium / urine
  • Sodium, Dietary* / adverse effects


  • Sodium
  • Potassium
  • Electrolytes
  • Sodium, Dietary