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African Americans are 40% more likely to be afflicted with hypertension in comparison to non-Hispanic, white Americans, resulting in a 30% higher instance of mortality due to cardiovascular disease. There is debate about the relative contributions of genetic and sociocultural risk factors to the racial disparity in hypertension.

We assayed three Alu insertion polymorphisms located in the angiotensin-1-converting enzyme (ACE), tissue plasminogen activator (PLAT), and with no-lysine kinase 1 (WNK1) genes. We also estimated West African genetic ancestry and developed novel measures of perceived discrimination to create a biocultural model of blood pressure among African- American adults in Tallahassee, FL (n=158).

When tested separately, the ACE Alu non-insertion allele was significantly associated with higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure. In multiple regression analyses, West African genetic ancestry was not associated with blood pressure and reduced the strength of all blood pressure models tested. A gene x environment interaction was identified between the ACE Alu genotype and a new measure of unfair treatment that includes experiences by individuals close to the study participant. Inclusion of the WNK1 Alu genotype further improved this model of blood pressure variation.

Our results suggest an association of the ACE and WNK1 genotypes with blood pressure that is consistent with their proposed gene functions. Perceived unfair treatment (to others) shows a threshold effect where an increase in blood pressure is demonstrated at higher values. The interaction between the ACE genotype and unfair treatment highlights the benefits of including both genetic and cultural data to investigate complex disease.