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International Consortium Finds 15 Novel Risk Loci for Coronary Artery Disease

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – A large-scale association analysis of coronary artery disease has detected 15 new loci associated with risk of the disease, bringing the total number of known risk alleles to 46. As the international CARDIoGRAMplusC4D Consortium reported in Nature Genetics yesterday, the study also found that lipid metabolism and inflammation pathways may play a part in coronary artery disease pathogenesis.

"The number of genetic variations that contribute to heart disease continues to grow with the publication of each new study," Peter Weissberg from the British Heart Foundation, a co-sponsor of the study, said in a statement. "This latest research further confirms that blood lipids and inflammation are at the heart of the development of atherosclerosis, the process that leads to heart attacks and strokes."

For its study, the consortium, which was comprised of more than 180 researchers, performed a meta-analysis of data from the 22,233 cases and 64,762 controls of the CARDIoGRAM genome-wide association study and of the 41,513 cases and 65,919 controls from 34 additional studies of people of European and South Asian descent. Using the custom Metabochip array from Illumina, the team tested SNPs for disease association in those populations. The SNPs that reached significance in that stage of the study were then replicated using data from a further four studies.

From this, the team identified 15 new loci with genome-wide significance for risk of coronary artery disease, in addition to known risk loci.

The consortium also reported an additional 104 SNPs that appeared to be associated with coronary artery disease but did not meet the cut-off for genome-wide significance.

Then looking to other known risk factors for coronary artery disease, like blood pressure and diabetes, the researchers assessed whether any of those risk factors were associated with the risk loci. Of the 45 known risk loci, 12 were associated with blood lipid content and five with blood pressure. And while people with type 2 diabetes have a higher risk of developing coronary artery disease, none of the known risk loci were linked to diabetic traits.

An analysis of the pathways that SNPs linked to coronary artery disease fall in revealed that many of them are involved in lipid metabolism and inflammation pathways — 10 risk loci were found to be involved in lipid metabolism. "Our network analysis identified lipid metabolism and inflammation as key biological pathways involved in the genetic pathogenesis of CAD," the researchers wrote in the paper. "Indeed, there was significant crosstalk between the lipid metabolism and inflammation pathways identified."

The role of inflammation in coronary artery disease has been up for debate — a debate centering on whether it is a cause or a consequence of the disease — and study author Themistocles Assimes from Stanford University Medical Center said in a statement that these findings begin to clear up its role. "Our network analysis of the top approximately 240 genetic signals in this study seems to provide evidence that genetic defects in some pathways related to inflammation are a cause," he said.

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