Prognostic value of coronary risk factors, exercise capacity and single photon emission computed tomography in liver transplantation candidates: A 5-year follow-up study

J Nucl Cardiol. 2021 Dec;28(6):2876-2891. doi: 10.1007/s12350-020-02126-z. Epub 2020 May 11.


Background: Although consensus-based guidelines support noninvasive stress testing prior to orthotopic liver transplantation (OLT), the optimal screening strategy for assessment of coronary artery disease in patients with end-stage liver disease (ESLD) is unclear. This study sought to determine the relative predictive value of coronary risk factors, functional capacity, and single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) on major adverse cardiovascular events and all-cause mortality in liver transplantation candidates.

Methods: Prior to listing for transplantation, 404 consecutive ESLD patients were referred to a University hospital for cardiovascular (CV) risk stratification. All subjects met at least one of the following criteria: inability to perform > 4 METs by history (62%), insulin-treated diabetes mellitus (53%), serum creatinine > 1.72 mg/dL (8%), history of MI, PCI or CABG (5%), stable angina (3%), cerebrovascular disease (1%), peripheral vascular disease (1%). Subjects underwent Technetium-99m SPECT with multislice coronary artery calcium scoring (CACS) using exercise treadmill or standard adenosine stress in those unable to achieve 85% maximal heart rate (Siemens Symbia T16). Abnormal perfusion was defined as a summed stress score (SSS) ≥ 4.

Results: Of the 404 patients, 158 (age 59 ± 9 years; male 68%) subsequently underwent transplantation and were included in the primary analysis. Of those, 50 (32%) died after a mean duration follow-up of 5.4 years (maximal 10.9 years). Most deaths (78%) were attributed to noncardiovascular causes (malignancy, sepsis, renal failure). Of the 32 subjects with abnormal perfusion (20%), nine (6%) had a high-risk perfusion abnormality defined as a total perfusion defect size (PDS) ≥ 15% and/or an ischemic PDS ≥ 10%. Kaplan-Meier survival curves demonstrated abnormal perfusion was associated with increased CV mortality (generalized Wilcoxon, P = 0.014) but not all-cause death. Subjects with both abnormal perfusion and an inability to exercise > 4 METs had the lowest survival from all-cause death (P = 0.038). Abnormal perfusion was a strong independent predictor of CV death (adjusted HR 4.2; 95% CI 1.4 to 12.3; P = 0.019) and MACE (adjusted HR 7.7; 95% CI 1.4 to 42.4; P = 0.018) in a multivariate Cox regression model that included age, sex, diabetes, smoking and the ability to exercise > 4 METs. There was no association between CACS and the extent of perfusion abnormality, nor with outcomes.

Conclusions: Most deaths following OLT are noncardiovascular. Nonetheless, abnormal perfusion is prevalent in this high-risk population and a stronger predictor of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality than functional status. A combined assessment of functional status and myocardial perfusion identifies those at highest risk of all-cause death. (Exercise Capacity and Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography in Liver Transplantation Candidates [ExSPECT]; Identifier: NCT03864497).

Keywords: SPECT; diagnostic and prognostic application; exercise testing; outcomes research; vasodilators.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Coronary Vessels / diagnostic imaging*
  • Exercise Tolerance*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Liver Transplantation*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Patient Selection
  • Prognosis
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Time Factors
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed, Single-Photon*

Associated data