Genetic Architecture of Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm in the Million Veteran Program

Circulation. 2020 Oct 27;142(17):1633-1646. doi: 10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.120.047544. Epub 2020 Sep 28.


Background: Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is an important cause of cardiovascular mortality; however, its genetic determinants remain incompletely defined. In total, 10 previously identified risk loci explain a small fraction of AAA heritability.

Methods: We performed a genome-wide association study in the Million Veteran Program testing ≈18 million DNA sequence variants with AAA (7642 cases and 172 172 controls) in veterans of European ancestry with independent replication in up to 4972 cases and 99 858 controls. We then used mendelian randomization to examine the causal effects of blood pressure on AAA. We examined the association of AAA risk variants with aneurysms in the lower extremity, cerebral, and iliac arterial beds, and derived a genome-wide polygenic risk score (PRS) to identify a subset of the population at greater risk for disease.

Results: Through a genome-wide association study, we identified 14 novel loci, bringing the total number of known significant AAA loci to 24. In our mendelian randomization analysis, we demonstrate that a genetic increase of 10 mm Hg in diastolic blood pressure (odds ratio, 1.43 [95% CI, 1.24-1.66]; P=1.6×10-6), as opposed to systolic blood pressure (odds ratio, 1.06 [95% CI, 0.97-1.15]; P=0.2), likely has a causal relationship with AAA development. We observed that 19 of 24 AAA risk variants associate with aneurysms in at least 1 other vascular territory. A 29-variant PRS was strongly associated with AAA (odds ratioPRS, 1.26 [95% CI, 1.18-1.36]; PPRS=2.7×10-11 per SD increase in PRS), independent of family history and smoking risk factors (odds ratioPRS+family history+smoking, 1.24 [95% CI, 1.14-1.35]; PPRS=1.27×10-6). Using this PRS, we identified a subset of the population with AAA prevalence greater than that observed in screening trials informing current guidelines.

Conclusions: We identify novel AAA genetic associations with therapeutic implications and identify a subset of the population at significantly increased genetic risk of AAA independent of family history. Our data suggest that extending current screening guidelines to include testing to identify those with high polygenic AAA risk, once the cost of genotyping becomes comparable with that of screening ultrasound, would significantly increase the yield of current screening at reasonable cost.

Keywords: aneurysm; aortic diseases; genome-wide association study; humans.