Aims: Inflammation plays an important role in cardiovascular disease (CVD) development. The NOD-like receptor protein-3 (NLRP3) inflammasome contributes to the development of atherosclerosis in animal models. Components of the NLRP3 inflammasome pathway such as interleukin-1β can therapeutically be targeted. Associations of genetically determined inflammasome-mediated systemic inflammation with CVD and mortality in humans are unknown.
Methods and results: We explored the association of genetic NLRP3 variants with prevalent CVD and cardiovascular mortality in 538 167 subjects on the individual participant level in an explorative gene-centric approach without performing multiple testing. Functional relevance of single-nucleotide polymorphisms on NLRP3 inflammasome activation has been evaluated in monocyte-enriched peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs). Genetic analyses identified the highly prevalent (minor allele frequency 39.9%) intronic NLRP3 variant rs10754555 to affect NLRP3 gene expression. rs10754555 carriers showed significantly higher C-reactive protein and serum amyloid A plasma levels. Carriers of the G allele showed higher NLRP3 inflammasome activation in isolated human PBMCs. In carriers of the rs10754555 variant, the prevalence of coronary artery disease was significantly higher as compared to non-carriers with a significant interaction between rs10754555 and age. Importantly, rs10754555 carriers had significantly higher risk for cardiovascular mortality during follow-up. Inflammasome inducers (e.g. urate, triglycerides, apolipoprotein C3) modulated the association between rs10754555 and mortality.
Conclusion: The NLRP3 intronic variant rs10754555 is associated with increased systemic inflammation, inflammasome activation, prevalent coronary artery disease, and mortality. This study provides evidence for a substantial role of genetically driven systemic inflammation in CVD and highlights the NLRP3 inflammasome as a therapeutic target.
Keywords: Cardiovascular diseases; Coronary artery disease; Inflammasome; Inflammation; NLRP3.
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