Heritability of Coronary Artery Disease: Insights From a Classical Twin Study

Circ Cardiovasc Imaging. 2022 Mar;15(3):e013348. doi: 10.1161/CIRCIMAGING.121.013348. Epub 2022 Mar 15.


Background: Genetics have a strong influence on calcified atherosclerotic plaques; however, data regarding the heritability of noncalcified plaque volume are scarce. We aimed to evaluate genetic versus environmental influences on calcium (coronary artery calcification) score, noncalcified and calcified plaque volumes by coronary computed tomography angiography in adult twin pairs without known coronary artery disease.

Methods: In the prospective BUDAPEST-GLOBAL (Burden of Atherosclerotic Plaques Study in Twins-Genetic Loci and the Burden of Atherosclerotic Lesions) classical twin study, we analyzed twin pairs without known coronary artery disease. All twins underwent coronary computed tomography angiography to assess coronary atherosclerotic plaque volumes. Structural equation models were used to quantify the contribution of additive genetic, common environmental, and unique environmental components to plaque volumes adjusted for age, gender, or atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease risk estimate and statin use.

Results: We included 196 twins (mean age±SD, 56±9 years, 63.3% females), 120 monozygotic and 76 same-gender dizygotic pairs. Using structural equation models, noncalcified plaque volume was predominantly determined by environmental factors (common environment, 63% [95% CI, 56%-67%], unique environment, 37% [95% CI, 33%-44%]), while coronary artery calcification score and calcified plaque volumes had a relatively strong genetic heritability (additive genetic, 58% [95% CI, 50%-66%]; unique environmental, 42% [95% CI, 34%-50%] and additive genetic, 78% [95% CI, 73%-80%]; unique environmental, 22% [95% CI, 20%-27%]), respectively.

Conclusions: Noncalcified plaque volume is mainly influenced by shared environmental factors, whereas coronary artery calcification score and calcified plaque volume are more determined by genetics. These findings emphasize the importance of early lifestyle interventions in preventing coronary plaque formation.

Registration: URL: https://www.

Clinicaltrials: gov; Unique identifier: NCT01738828.

Keywords: atherosclerosis; computed tomography angiography; coronary angiography; coronary artery disease; prevalence.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Twin Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Atherosclerosis* / pathology
  • Computed Tomography Angiography / methods
  • Coronary Angiography / methods
  • Coronary Artery Disease* / diagnostic imaging
  • Coronary Artery Disease* / epidemiology
  • Coronary Artery Disease* / genetics
  • Coronary Vessels / diagnostic imaging
  • Coronary Vessels / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic* / genetics
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01738828