Publishing their findings in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, the University of Bristol researchers contend that Jam-1 (junctional adhesion molecule-1), is trapping white blood cells called leukocytes and causing inflammation of the brain's blood vessels.
If this hypothesis is true, it would mean high blood pressure being classified as an inflammatory vascular disease of the brain.
Currently, one in three UK residents is likely to develop hypertension at some point in their lives, with more than 600 million people across the world affected.
The University of Bristol scientists write that these statistics give high blood pressure a "pandemic" status, and they warn that 60 per cent of patients remain hypertensive despite receiving medication to alleviate symptoms, which include an increased risk of strokes and heart attacks.
"We are looking at the possibility of treating those patients that fail to respond to conventional therapy for hypertension with drugs that reduce blood vessel inflammation and increase blood flow within the brain," explained study co-author Professor Julian Paton.
"The future challenge will be to understand the type of inflammation within the vessels in the brain, so that we know what drug to use, and how to target them. Jam-1 could provide us with new clues as to how to deal with this disease."
Commenting on the research, the British Heart Foundation's associate medical director Professor Jeremy Pearson said that the study was "exciting" because it suggests there are "unexpected causes of high blood pressure related to blood supply to the brain".
"It therefore opens up the possibility of new ways to treat this common, but often poorly managed, condition," he continued.
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