Importance: Plasma low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (LDL-C) has been associated with aortic stenosis in observational studies; however, randomized trials with cholesterol-lowering therapies in individuals with established valve disease have failed to demonstrate reduced disease progression.
Objective: To evaluate whether genetic data are consistent with an association between LDL-C, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C), or triglycerides (TG) and aortic valve disease.
Design, setting, and participants: Using a Mendelian randomization study design, we evaluated whether weighted genetic risk scores (GRSs), a measure of the genetic predisposition to elevations in plasma lipids, constructed using single-nucleotide polymorphisms identified in genome-wide association studies for plasma lipids, were associated with aortic valve disease. We included community-based cohorts participating in the CHARGE consortium (n = 6942), including the Framingham Heart Study (cohort inception to last follow-up: 1971-2013; n = 1295), Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (2000-2012; n = 2527), Age Gene/Environment Study-Reykjavik (2000-2012; n = 3120), and the Malmö Diet and Cancer Study (MDCS, 1991-2010; n = 28,461).
Main outcomes and measures: Aortic valve calcium quantified by computed tomography in CHARGE and incident aortic stenosis in the MDCS.
Results: The prevalence of aortic valve calcium across the 3 CHARGE cohorts was 32% (n = 2245). In the MDCS, over a median follow-up time of 16.1 years, aortic stenosis developed in 17 per 1000 participants (n = 473) and aortic valve replacement for aortic stenosis occurred in 7 per 1000 (n = 205). Plasma LDL-C, but not HDL-C or TG, was significantly associated with incident aortic stenosis (hazard ratio [HR] per mmol/L, 1.28; 95% CI, 1.04-1.57; P = .02; aortic stenosis incidence: 1.3% and 2.4% in lowest and highest LDL-C quartiles, respectively). The LDL-C GRS, but not HDL-C or TG GRS, was significantly associated with presence of aortic valve calcium in CHARGE (odds ratio [OR] per GRS increment, 1.38; 95% CI, 1.09-1.74; P = .007) and with incident aortic stenosis in MDCS (HR per GRS increment, 2.78; 95% CI, 1.22-6.37; P = .02; aortic stenosis incidence: 1.9% and 2.6% in lowest and highest GRS quartiles, respectively). In sensitivity analyses excluding variants weakly associated with HDL-C or TG, the LDL-C GRS remained associated with aortic valve calcium (P = .03) and aortic stenosis (P = .009). In instrumental variable analysis, LDL-C was associated with an increase in the risk of incident aortic stenosis (HR per mmol/L, 1.51; 95% CI, 1.07-2.14; P = .02).
Conclusions and relevance: Genetic predisposition to elevated LDL-C was associated with presence of aortic valve calcium and incidence of aortic stenosis, providing evidence supportive of a causal association between LDL-C and aortic valve disease. Whether earlier intervention to reduce LDL-C could prevent aortic valve disease merits further investigation.