Vascular inflammation and aortic stiffness: potential mechanisms of increased vascular risk in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
McEniery, Carmel M
Background Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a complex inflammatory condition in which an important extra-pulmonary manifestation is cardiovascular disease. We hypothesized that COPD patients would have increased aortic inflammation and stiffness, as candidate mechanisms mediating increased cardiovascular risk, compared to two negative control groups: healthy never-smokers and smokers without COPD. We also studied patients with COPD due to alpha− 1 antitrypsin deficiency (α1ATD) as a comparator lung disease group. Methods Participants underwent 18F-Fluorodeoxyglucose (FDG) positron emission tomography imaging to quantify aortic inflammation as the tissue-to-blood-ratio (TBR) of FDG uptake. Aortic stiffness was measured by carotid-femoral aortic pulse wave velocity (aPWV). Results Eighty-five usual COPD (COPD due to smoking), 12 α1ATD-COPD patients and 12 each smokers and never-smokers were studied. There was no difference in pack years smoked between COPD patients and smokers (45 ± 25 vs 37 ± 19, p = 0.36), but α1ATD patients smoked significantly less (19 ± 11, p < 0.001 for both). By design, spirometry measures were lower in COPD and α1ATD-COPD patients compared to smokers and never-smokers. Aortic inflammation and stiffness were increased in COPD (TBR: 1.90 ± 0.38, aPWV: 9.9 ± 2.6 m/s) and α1ATD patients (TBR: 1.94 ± 0.43, aPWV: 9.5 ± 1.8 m/s) compared with smokers (TBR: 1.74 ± 0.30, aPWV: 7.8 ± 1.8 m/s, p < 0.05 all) and never-smokers (TBR: 1.71 ± 0.34, aPWV: 7.9 ± 1.7 m/s, p ≤ 0.05 all). Conclusions In this cross-sectional prospective study, novel findings were that both usual COPD and α1ATD-COPD patients have increased aortic inflammation and stiffness compared to smoking and never-smoking controls, regardless of smoking history. These findings suggest that the presence of COPD lung disease per se may be associated with adverse aortic wall changes, and aortic inflammation and stiffening are potential mechanisms mediating increased vascular risk observed in COPD patients.