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BACKGROUND: Essential hypertension is a prevalent complex polygenic disease and a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in developed countries. Because of its complex and multifactorial nature, its genetic determinants still remain largely unknown. The Dahl salt-sensitive hypertensive rat model exhibits impaired sodium handling, which is hypothesized to play a key role in the pathophysiology of polygenic hypertension. Thus, genes associated with renal regulation of salt and water balance are a priori likely candidates for a causative role in hypertension pathogenesis. The functional properties and renal-specific expression of the recently characterized AngII/AVP receptor suggest a putative modulator role in tubular sodium and fluid reabsorption. Based on these observations, we investigated the potential involvement of the AngII/AVP receptor in salt-sensitive hypertension. MATERIALS AND METHODS:We performed cosegregation analysis of the AngII/AVP receptor locus with salt-sensitive hypertension in an F2 (Dahl S X Dahl salt-resistant [R]) hybrid male cohort characterized for blood pressure by radiotelemetry after 8 weeks of high salt challenge. Further molecular analysis was done to identify putative AngII/AVP receptor molecular variants that could account for the AngII/ AVP receptor involvement in salt-sensitive hypertension pathogenesis. RESULTS:The AngII/AVP receptor was mapped to rat chromosome 1, 1.7 cM centromeric to the D1Rat188 marker by radiation hybrid mapping analysis. Quantitative trait locus (QTL) analysis detected a highly significant linkage of the AngII/AVP receptor locus with high blood pressure (LRS = 13.8, p= 0.0002). Molecular characterization of the Dahl S and Dahl R AngII/AVP receptor cDNAs revealed two amino acid substitutions in the Dahl S AngII/AVP receptor (N119S, C163R) when compared to the Dahl R AngII/AVP receptor. These mutations are associated with an increased receptor affinity for both ligands (AVP and AngII) and an enhanced G(s)-coupling by the receptor resulting in increased activation of adenylate cyclase with concomitant increase in cAMP production. CONCLUSIONS: The observed molecular dysfunction in the Dahl S AngII/AVP receptor is consistent with increased tubular sodium and fluid reabsorption observed in Dahl S rats. Interestingly, the AngII/AVPr locus is within the narrowed chromosome 1 QTL region for blood pressure detected in different rat intercross linkage analyses. Altogether, the data strongly suggest that the AngII/AVP receptor is a hypertension susceptibility gene in the Dahl S rat model, as well as raises the hypothesis that it too underlies the chromosome 1 blood pressure QTL identified in other hypertension rat models.