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In Frontiers in cardiovascular medicine

Calcification of large arteries is a high-risk factor in the development of cardiovascular diseases, however, due to the lack of routine monitoring, the pathology remains severely under-diagnosed and prevalence in the general population is not known. We have developed a set of machine learning methods to quantitate levels of abdominal aortic calcification (AAC) in the UK Biobank imaging cohort and carried out the largest to-date analysis of genetic, biochemical, and epidemiological risk factors associated with the pathology. In a genetic association study, we identified three novel loci associated with AAC (FGF9, NAV9, and APOE), and replicated a previously reported association at the TWIST1/HDAC9 locus. We find that AAC is a highly prevalent pathology, with ~ 1 in 10 adults above the age of 40 showing significant levels of hydroxyapatite build-up (Kauppila score > 3). Presentation of AAC was strongly predictive of future cardiovascular events including stenosis of precerebral arteries (HR~1.5), myocardial infarction (HR~1.3), ischemic heart disease (HR~1.3), as well as other diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (HR~1.3). Significantly, we find that the risk for myocardial infarction from elevated AAC (HR ~1.4) was comparable to the risk of hypercholesterolemia (HR~1.4), yet most people who develop AAC are not hypercholesterolemic. Furthermore, the overwhelming majority (98%) of individuals who develop pathology do so in the absence of known pre-existing risk conditions such as chronic kidney disease and diabetes (0.6% and 2.7% respectively). Our findings indicate that despite the high cardiovascular risk, calcification of large arteries remains a largely under-diagnosed lethal condition, and there is a clear need for increased awareness and monitoring of the pathology in the general population.

Sethi Anurag, Taylor D Leland, Ruby J Graham, Venkataraman Jagadish, Sorokin Elena, Cule Madeleine, Melamud Eugene


Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA), abdominal aorta calcification, cardiovascular disease(s), genome-wide association study (GWAS), machine learning, myocardial infarction