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Hypertension and Counter-Hypertension Mechanisms in Giraffes

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The giraffe is unique as its head is 2500-3000 millimeters above its heart, thus the giraffe's heart must pump hard enough to overcome the huge hydrostatic pressure generated by the tall column of blood in its neck in order to provide its head with sufficient nutrients and oxygen. Giraffes therefore have exceptionally high blood pressure (hypertension) by human standards. Interestingly, the "unnaturally" high blood pressure in giraffes does not culminate in severe vascular lesions, nor does it lead to heart and kidney failure, whereas in humans, the same blood pressure is exceedingly dangerous and will cause severe vascular damage. Intrinsically, natural selection likely has provided an important protective mechanism, because hypertension develops as soon as the giraffe stands up and erects its neck immediately after birth. Therefore, those individual giraffes who did not tolerate the burden of hypertension presumably developed acute heart failure and renal failure, not surviving to reproductive age. The genes and genotypes of animals that did not survive are thus predicted to have been gradually eliminated from the gene pool by natural selection. By the same process, genes that protect against hypertensive damage would be preserved and inherited from generation to generation. Some unique ingredients of the giraffe's diet may also provide an extrinsic mechanism for the prevention of hypertension and the prevention of fatal end-stage organ damage. The fascinating nature of the protective mechanisms in giraffes may provide a conceptual framework for further experimental investigations into mechanisms as well as prevention and treatment of human hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

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Keywords: Giraffe heart; Hydrostatic blood pressure; anesthetics; cerebral perfusion pressure; low-density lipoproteins

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: MSC789, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA 91126, USA.

Publication date: 2006-03-01

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  • Cardiovascular & Hematological Disorders - Drug Targets aims to cover all the latest and outstanding developments on the medicinal chemistry, pharmacology, molecular biology, genomics and biochemistry of contemporary molecular targets involved in cardiovascular and hematological disorders e.g. disease specific proteins, receptors, enzymes, genes. Each issue of the journal will contain a series of timely in-depth reviews written by leaders in the field covering a range of current topics on drug targets involved in cardiovascular and hematological disorders. As the discovery, identification, characterization and validation of novel human drug targets for cardiovascular and hematological drug discovery continues to grow; this journal will be essential reading for all pharmaceutical scientists involved in drug discovery and development.
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