Associations of genetically predicted IL-6 signaling with cardiovascular disease risk across population subgroups.
BACKGROUND: Interleukin 6 (IL-6) signaling is being investigated as a therapeutic target for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (CVD). While changes in circulating high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (hsCRP) are used as a marker of IL-6 signaling, it is not known whether there is effect heterogeneity in relation to baseline hsCRP levels or other cardiovascular risk factors. The aim of this study was to explore the association of genetically predicted IL-6 signaling with CVD risk across populations stratified by baseline hsCRP levels and cardiovascular risk factors. METHODS: Among 397,060 White British UK Biobank participants without known CVD at baseline, we calculated a genetic risk score for IL-6 receptor (IL-6R)-mediated signaling, composed of 26 variants at the IL6R gene locus. We then applied linear and non-linear Mendelian randomization analyses exploring associations with a combined endpoint of incident coronary artery disease, ischemic stroke, peripheral artery disease, aortic aneurysm, and cardiovascular death stratifying by baseline hsCRP levels and cardiovascular risk factors. RESULTS: The study participants (median age 59 years, 53.9% females) were followed-up for a median of 8.8 years, over which time a total of 46,033 incident cardiovascular events occurred. Genetically predicted IL-6R-mediated signaling activity was associated with higher CVD risk (hazard ratio per 1-mg/dL increment in absolute hsCRP levels: 1.11, 95% CI: 1.06-1.17). The increase in CVD risk was linearly related to baseline absolute hsCRP levels. There was no evidence of heterogeneity in the association of genetically predicted IL-6R-mediated signaling with CVD risk when stratifying the population by sex, age, body mass index, estimated glomerular filtration rate, or systolic blood pressure, but there was evidence of greater associations in individuals with low-density lipoprotein cholesterol ≥ 160 mg/dL. CONCLUSIONS: Any benefit of inhibiting IL-6 signaling for CVD risk reduction is likely to be proportional to absolute reductions in hsCRP levels. Therapeutic inhibition of IL-6 signaling for CVD risk reduction should therefore prioritize those individuals with the highest baseline levels of hsCRP.
Medical Research Council (MC_UU_00002/7)
National Institute for Health Research (IS-BRC-1215-20014)