Purpose: To determine whether past infection by Chlamydia pneumoniae strain TWAR is associated with asymptomatic atherosclerosis. Previous studies have linked this organism with symptomatic coronary heart disease.
Subjects and methods: Between 1986 and 1989, 15,800 men and women aged 45 to 64 years were examined as part of the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study, a prospective cohort study of atherosclerosis being conducted in 4 United States communities. The examination included B-mode ultrasonography of the carotid arteries and an assessment of cardiovascular disease risk factors. Carotid wall thickening (blood-intima to medial-adventitial interface) in the absence of clinical cardiovascular disease was considered evidence of asymptomatic atherosclerosis. In 1991, IgG antibody titers to TWAR were assayed by microimmunofluorescence in stored sera from 326 case-control pairs matched by age group, race, sex, examination period, and field center. A titer of 1:8 or higher was considered a positive TWAR antibody response.
Results: Seventy-three percent of atherosclerosis cases had serologic evidence of past TWAR infection versus 63% of controls (matched odds ratio 1.76; 95% confidence interval, 1.21 to 2.57). After adjustment for age, hypertension, diabetes, cigarette smoking, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, and education, the odds ratio for atherosclerosis was essentially unchanged at 2.00 (95% confidence interval, 1.19 to 3.35). The association was stronger for individuals aged 45 to 54 years than for those aged 55 to 64 years.
Conclusion: There was a significant cross-sectional association between past TWAR infection and asymptomatic atherosclerosis. This organism may be a contributor to the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis.