PMCCPMCCPMCC

Search tips
Search criteria 

Advanced

 
Logo of nihpaAbout Author manuscriptsSubmit a manuscriptNIH Public Access; Author Manuscript; Accepted for publication in peer reviewed journal;
 
J Cardiovasc Med (Hagerstown). Author manuscript; available in PMC Oct 1, 2010.
Published in final edited form as:
PMCID: PMC2732746
NIHMSID: NIHMS121744
Individual pathogens, pathogen burden, and markers of subclinical atherosclerosis: the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis
Moyses Szklo,a Jingzhong Ding,b Michael Y. Tsai,c Mary Cushman,d Joseph F. Polak,e João Lima,f R. Graham Barr,g and A. Richey Sharretta
aDepartment of Epidemiology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, Maryland
bDepartment of Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine, Wake Forest University Health Sciences, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
cLaboratory Medical Pathology, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minneapolis
dDepartment of Pathology, University of Vermont, Burlington, Vermont
eDepartment of Radiology, Tufts-New England Medical Center, Boston, Massachusetts
fDepartment of Cardiology, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland
gDepartment of Epidemiology, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA
Correspondence to Moyses Szklo, MD, MPH, DrPH, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 615 N Wolfe Street, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA Tel: +1 410 955 3462; fax: +1 410 955 8086; e-mail: mszklo/at/jhsph.edu
We examined the cross-sectional relationships of subclinical atherosclerosis – expressed by carotid intimal–medial thickness and coronary calcification – with antibodies to Chlamydia pneumoniae, Helicobacter pylori, cytomegalovirus, herpes simplex virus, hepatitis A virus, and pathogen burden (number of positive pathogens). A random sample of 1056 individuals chosen from 5030 Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis cohort participants were included. After multiple adjustment, no associations were found between atherosclerosis measures and either individual pathogens or pathogen burden. Interactions with inflammatory and endothelial function markers, demographic factors, BMI, high-density lipoprotein, diabetes, and smoking were also explored. The only interaction that was large, qualitative, statistically significant (P < 0.05) and in the expected direction was that between hepatitis A virus and soluble intercellular adhesion molecule-1 with regard to Agatston calcium score: the difference between hepatitis A virus-positive and hepatitis A virus-negative participants was −86 units in participants with soluble intercellular adhesion molecule-1 below the median, and +162 units in those with soluble intercellular adhesion molecule-1 equal or above the median. However, given the number of interactions that were explored, these results must be interpreted cautiously.
Findings from the present analyses do not provide support for an infectious etiology for subclinical atherosclerosis. However, the study’s limitations, which include its cross-sectional design and insufficient statistical power, suggest that inferences from its findings should be made cautiously.
Keywords: atherosclerosis, infections, pathogens
Studies on both animals [1,2] and humans [3] have suggested a role for pathogens in the etiology of atherosclerosis, including cytomegalovirus [4,5], herpes simplex virus [6], hepatitis A virus [7], Helicobacter pylori [8], and particularly Chlamydia pneumoniae [9,10]. The observation that periodontitis is related to atherosclerosis [11] further supports an infectious etiology. In addition to individual pathogens, pathogen burden (number of pathogens) has been also found in association with atherosclerosis [1215].
Baseline data from a multicenter cohort study, the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA), provided an opportunity to further examine the infectious hypothesis. In this report, we extend the evaluation of the relationship of infections with subclinical atherosclerosis – which heretofore has been mostly based on intimal–medial thickness (IMT) of the carotid or femoral arteries [13,16] – to also include coronary artery calcification. In addition, interactions between pathogen burden and markers of endothelial dysfunction and inflammation were studied, as these processes may link infections to atherosclerosis [1721].
The MESA is a population-based cohort study of cardiovascular outcomes in 6814 white, African–American, Chinese, and Hispanic men and women aged 45–84 years who, at baseline (2000–2002), were free of prevalent cardiovascular disease. Cohort participants were recruited from six communities, with approval from all institutional review boards: Baltimore, Maryland; Chicago, Illinois; Forsyth County, North Carolina; Los Angeles, California; New York, New York; and St Paul, Minnesota, USA. A detailed description of the study design has been published [22]. The present report is based on cross-sectional data from a simple random sample of 1056 individuals in whom pathogens were measured, selected from the 5030 MESA participants enrolled prior to February 2002.
Pathogens
Antibodies to the following pathogens were evaluated in the random sample: C. pneumoniae, cytomegalovirus, hepatitis A virus, H. pylori, and herpes simplex virus. Serum samples for determination of pathogens were frozen at −70°C. Indirect enzyme immunoassays were used to determine IgG antibodies to herpes simplex virus types 1 and 2, cytomegalovirus, and H. pylori antigens (Diamedix Immunosimplicity Test Kits, Diamedix Corporation, Miami, Florida, USA). Total serum antibodies to hepatitis A virus were detected using the IM× HAVAB qualitative microparticle enzyme immunoassay (Abbott Laboratories, Abbott Park, Illinois, USA). Serum IgG antibodies to C. pneumoniae were detected using a microimmunofluorescent antibody assay employing a two-stage sandwich procedure (Focus Technologies, Cypress, California, USA). Positivity values were as follows: herpes simplex, at least 16 EU/ml; cytomegalovirus at least 8.0 EU/ml; H. pylori, at least 1.1 index value; hepatitis A virus, at least 20 mIU/ml; and C. pneumoniae, intensity of fluorescence ≠ 0.
Subclinical atherosclerosis
Coronary calcium was measured by multidetector computer tomographic scanning and electron beam computed tomography, as previously described [23]. Among participants with calcification, a total phantom-adjusted Agatston score [24], defined as the sum of calcium measures from the left anterior descending, circumflex, left and right coronary arteries, was calculated. High-resolution B-mode ultrasonography was used to capture images of the bilateral common carotid and internal carotid arteries using a Logiq 700 ultrasound machine (Logig-700 General Electric Medical Systems, Waukesha, Wisconsin, USA).
). Carotid IMT was computed as the mean of the maximum thickness of the near and far walls from the left and right sides [25].
Covariates
Interviews collected information on age, sex, education, ethnic background, and pack-years of smoking. Diabetes information was based on self-report of physician-diagnosed diabetes, use of hypoglycemic drugs, or fasting plasma glucose at least 126 mg/dl. Glucose was measured by rate reflectance spectrophotometry on the Vitros analyzer (Johnson & Johnson Clinical Diagnostics, Rochester, New York, USA). Fasting total cholesterol was measured using a cholesterol oxidase method (Roche Diagnostics, Indianapolis, Indiana, USA). High-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol was measured similarly after precipitation of non-HDL cholesterol with magnesium–dextran. Resting blood pressure was the average of the last two of three measurements using a Dinamap automated oscillometric sphygmomanometer (model Pro 100, Critikon, Tampa, Florida, USA). BMI was calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height squared in meters. Height and weight were measured in light clothing and with no shoes.
Endothelial function and inflammatory markers were measured as follows: soluble intercellular adhesion molecule-1 (s-ICAM-1) by an ELISA (Parameter Human s-ICAM-1 Immunoassay; R&D Systems, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA); von Willebrand factor (vWF) by an immunoturbidometric assay on the Star analyzer (Liatest vWF; Diagnostica Stago, Parsippany, New Jersey, USA); total homocysteine by a fluorescence polarization immunoassay (IMx Homocysteine Assay, Axis Biochemicals ASA, Oslo, Norway) using the IMx analyzer (Abbott Diagnostics, Abbott Park, Illinois, USA); interleukin-6 (IL-6) by ultrasensitive ELISA (Quantikine HS Human IL-6 Immunoassay; R&D Systems); and C-reactive protein (CRP) by immunonephelometry using the BNII nephelometer (N high-sensitivity CRP; Dade Behring Inc., Deerfield, Illinois, USA). Laboratory analytical coefficient of variability values for all analytes was less than 8%.
Statistical analysis
Distributions or means of demographic and cardiovascular risk factors, and measures of subclinical atherosclerosis were compared between the random sample and the total cohort. Linear regression was used to examine the associations of individual pathogens and total pathogen burden with carotid IMT, after adjustment for age (continuous), sex, education (less than high school, high school or some college degree, or college degree or higher), ethnic background, pack-years of smoking, diabetes, total and HDL cholesterol, systolic and diastolic blood pressure, and BMI. Because the calcium distribution is skewed, log-transformed Agatston score was used in the model. A generalized linear model with a log link was used to estimate prevalence ratios for coronary calcification, after adjustment for the same variables entered in the linear regression model. We examined the dependence of the pathogen–atherosclerosis associations on levels of the following endothelial function and inflammation markers, categorized as equal or above, or below the following median values: s-ICAM-1, 268 ng/ml; vWF, 130%; total homocysteine, 8.6 umol/l; IL-6, 1.12 pg/ml; and CRP, 2.03 mg/l. We also explored heterogeneity by age (<55 vs. ≥55), ethnic background (white vs. nonwhite), sex (men vs. women), BMI (>25 vs. ≤ 25), diabetes, HDL (<40 mg/dl vs. ≥40 in men and <50 vs. ≥50 in women), and smoking (former and current vs. never).
Distributions and means of demographic and other variables, and median Agatston score were reasonably similar between the random sample on which this report is based and the total cohort (Table 1). However, mean age, proportions of male participants, and whites, and IMT and calcium values were somewhat lower in the random sample. Infection prevalence proportions varied from a low of 45.4% for H. pylori to a high of almost 85% for herpes simplex virus (Table 2).
Table 1
Table 1
Distributions and means (with SD) of selected demographic and cardiovascular risk factors and of markers of subclinical atherosclerosis in a random sample and in the total Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis cohort, 2000–2002
Table 2
Table 2
Unadjusted mean carotid intimal–medial thickness values, adjusted absolute differences in intimal–medial thickness,a unadjusted coronary calcification prevalence proportions, and adjusted coronary calcification prevalence ratiosa according (more ...)
No statistically significant relationships (at P ≤ 0.05) were seen between individual pathogens or pathogen burden and either mean IMT or coronary calcium prevalence, and multiple adjustments did not change these patterns (Table 2). Similar null findings were observed for mean Agatston score in individuals with some coronary calcification (not shown in a table).
We also examined IMT and coronary calcium across quintiles of Chlamydia titer levels, but no significant trends were observed upon multiple adjustment (not shown). Chlamydia was the only pathogen tested in the whole cohort (n = 6597); however, results for all MESA participants were virtually the same as those seen in the random sample. Moreover, addition of antibiotic use in the previous year to the regression model did not change the results.
Interaction terms were tested for 156 combinations of individual pathogens/pathogen burden with endothelial/inflammatory markers, demographic variables, BMI, diabetes, HDL, and smoking status. Only eight interactions were found to be statistically significant (P < 0.05), comprising 5% of all interactions explored. However, for seven of these, heterogeneity was either very small or in a direction different from that expected (for example, calcium prevalence ratios slightly further away from 1.0 in the stratum below than in that above the median for the endothelial/inflammatory marker). Only one interaction was simultaneously statistically significant, large, qualitative, and in the expected direction: the difference in mean Agatston score between hepatitis A-positive and hepatitis A-negative participants with s-ICAM-1 below the median was −186 Agatston units, but in those with s-ICAM-1 equal or above the median, it was +162 Agatston units.
Our results do not replicate those of previous studies showing associations between individual pathogens and atherosclerosis (e.g., [4,6,7,9,10,26,27]). On the other hand, our null findings are consistent with results of a very large cohort study [28] and those of a recent meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials [29], both suggesting that antichlamydial antibiotic therapy does not reduce clinical atherosclerosis risk.
Pathogen burden, rather than individual pathogens, has been postulated as a risk factor for atherosclerosis and, indeed, several studies support its relationship with clinical coronary artery disease or death [15], carotid atherosclerosis progression [13], poor prognosis of patients with coronary artery disease [30], ischemic stroke [31], peripheral arterial disease [32], and endothelial dysfunction [33]. Yet, even after adjustment for multiple potential confounders, and in agreement with some other studies [3436], we could not observe an association of pathogen burden with proven markers of subclinical atherosclerosis.
Changes in the endothelium are related to infections [17,18,21], and expression of cytokines in endothelial cells has been proposed as a mechanism linking infections to atherosclerosis [19,20]. In addition, previous research suggests that pathogens may interact with inflammatory markers with regard to atherosclerosis [14,26]. However, regardless of statistical significance, we only observed a clear-cut statistical interaction when examining the joint association of hepatitis A virus and s-ICAM-1 with Agatston score. Given the large number of interactions explored in the present analyses, this result may have been due to chance; however, its qualitative ('cross-over') nature warrants confirmation in future studies.
Among the strengths of our study are its population-based design, careful exposure, covariate and subclinical atherosclerosis measurements, and adjustment for multiple potential confounders. Among its limitations, inability to determine temporality given its cross-sectional nature is of particular concern, as antibodies may reflect prior, rather than current or chronic infections. Another possible reason for our null findings is past decreased survival for individuals with both infections and atherosclerosis, thus, resulting in survival bias at baseline. Because four of the five pathogens were measured in a random sample of about 20% of the cohort, insufficient statistical power may also explain our inability to detect associations; however, at least for Chlamydia, results for the whole cohort were also null. In addition, as prevalent cardiovascular disease was an exclusion criterion and as the distributions of some factors in the random sample and the whole cohort were not entirely comparable (Table 1), it is important to be cautious when generalizing the findings of the present study to the reference population.
In sum, we have investigated the link between individual pathogens, pathogen burden and subclinical atherosclerosis, and found no significant associations. It is possible that pathogen burden is related to a subset of the population prone to develop clinical manifestations of atherosclerosis, that is, those with both subclinical atherosclerosis and pathogen burden with its accompanying inflammatory process. Given the study’s limitations, longitudinal data on IMT progression, incidence and progression of coronary calcification, and incident cardiovascular events are needed to either confirm or reject our cross-sectional findings.
Acknowledgements
The authors thank the other investigators, the staff, and the participants of the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) for their valuable contributions. A full list of participating MESA investigators and institutions can be found at http://www.mesa-nhlbi.org.
The present research was supported by contract N01–HC–95162 from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Footnotes
The authors have no conflicts to disclose.
1. Fabricant CG, Fabricant J, Litrenta MM, Minick CR. Virus-induced atherosclerosis. J Exp Med. 1978;148:335–340. [PMC free article] [PubMed]
2. Li L, Messas E, Batista EL, Jr, Levine RA, Amar S. Porphyromonas gingivalis infection accelerates the progression of atherosclerosis in a heterozygous apolipoprotein E-deficient murine model. Circulation. 2002;105:861–867. [PubMed]
3. Nieto FJ. Viruses and atherosclerosis: a critical review of the epidemiologic evidence. Am Heart J. 1999;138(5 Pt 2):S453–S460. [PubMed]
4. Nieto FJ, Adam E, Sorlie P, Farzadegan H, Melnick JL, Comstock GW, et al. Cohort study of cytomegalovirus infection as a risk factor for carotid intimal-medial thickening, a measure of subclinical atherosclerosis. Circulation. 1996;94:922–927. [PubMed]
5. Sorlie PD, Adam E, Melnick SL, Folsom A, Skelton T, Chambless LE, et al. Cytomegalovirus/herpesvirus and carotid atherosclerosis: the ARIC Study. J Med Virol. 1994;42:33–37. [PubMed]
6. Ibrahim AI, Obeid MT, Jouma MJ, Moasis GA, Al-Richane WL, Kindermann I, et al. Detection of herpes simplex virus, cytomegalovirus and Epstein-Barr virus DNA in atherosclerotic plaques and in unaffected bypass grafts. J Clin Virol. 2005;32:29–32. [PubMed]
7. Zhu J, Quyyumi AA, Norman JE, Costello R, Csako G, Epstein SE. The possible role of hepatitis A virus in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis. J Infect Dis. 2000;182:1583–1587. [PubMed]
8. Oshima T, Ozono R, Yano Y, Oishi Y, Teragawa H, Higashi Y, et al. Association of Helicobacter pylori infection with systemic inflammation and endothelial dysfunction in healthy male subjects. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2005;45:1219–1222. [PubMed]
9. Nieto FJ, Folsom AR, Sorlie PD, Grayston JT, Wang SP, Chambless LE. Chlamydia pneumoniae infection and incident coronary heart disease: the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study. Am J Epidemiol. 1999;150:149–156. [PubMed]
10. Huittinen T, Leinonen M, Tenkanen L, Virkkunen H, Mänttäri M, Palosuo T, et al. Synergistic effect of persistent Chlamydia pneumoniae infection, autoimmunity, and inflammation on coronary risk. Circulation. 2003;107:2566–2570. [PubMed]
11. Beck JD, Pankow J, Tyroler HA, Offenbacher S. Dental infections and atherosclerosis. Am Heart J. 1999;138(5 Pt 2):S528–S533. [PubMed]
12. Epstein SE, Zhu J, Burnett MS, Zhou YF, Vercellotti G, Hajjar D. Infection and atherosclerosis: potential roles of pathogen burden and molecular mimicry. Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2000;20:1417–1420. [PubMed]
13. Espinola-Klein C, Rupprecht HJ, Blankenberg S, Bickel C, Kopp H, Victor A, et al. Impact of infectious burden on progression of carotid atherosclerosis. Stroke. 2002;33:2581–2586. [PubMed]
14. Zhu J, Quyyumi AA, Norman JE, Csako G, Waclawiw MA, Shearer GM, et al. Effects of total pathogen burden on coronary artery disease risk and C- reactive protein levels. Am J Cardiol. 2000;85:140–146. [PubMed]
15. Zhu J, Nieto FJ, Horne BD, Anderson JL, Muhlestein JB, Epstein SE. Prospective study of pathogen burden and risk of myocardial infarction or death. Circulation. 2001;103:45–51. [PubMed]
16. Mayr M, Kiechl S, Willeit J, Wick G, Xu Q. Infections, immunity, and atherosclerosis: associations of antibodies to Chlamydia pneumoniae, Helicobacter pylori and cytomegalovirus with immune reactions to heat-shock protein 60 and carotid or femoral atherosclerosis. Circulation. 2000;102:833–839. [PubMed]
17. Grundy JE, Downes KL. Up-regulation of LFA-3 and ICAM-1 on the surface of fibroblasts infected with cytomegalovirus. Immunology. 1993;78:405–412. [PubMed]
18. Hajjar DP, Fabricant CG, Minick CR, Fabricant J. Virus-induced atherosclerosis. Herpes virus infection alters aortic cholesterol metabolism and accumulation. Am J Pathol. 1986;122:62–70. [PubMed]
19. Pearson TA, Mensah GA, Alexander RW, Anderson JL, Cannon RO, 3rd, Criqui M, et al. Markers of inflammation and cardiovascular disease: application to clinical and public health practice - a statement for healthcare professionals from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Heart Association. Circulation. 2003;107:499–511. [PubMed]
20. Rott D, Zhu J, Burnett MS, Zhou YF, Wasserman A, Walker J, et al. Serum of cytomegalovirus-infected mice induces monocyte chemoattractant protein-1 expression by endothelial cells. J Infect Dis. 2001;184:1109–1113. [PubMed]
21. Zhou YF, Yu ZX, Wanishsawad C, Shou M, Epstein SE. The immediate early gene products of human cytomegalovirus increase vascular smooth muscle cell migration, proliferation, and expression of PDGF beta-receptor. Biochem Biophys Res Commun. 1999;256:608–613. [PubMed]
22. Bild DE, Bluemke DA, Burke GL, Detrano R, Diez Roux AV, Folsom AR, et al. Multiethnic study of atherosclerosis: objectives and design. Am J Epidemiol. 2002;156:871–881. [PubMed]
23. Carr JJ, Nelson JC, Wong ND, McNitt-Gray M, Arad Y, Jacobs DR, Jr, et al. Calcified coronary artery plaque measurement with cardiac CT in population-based studies: standardized protocol of Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) and Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study. Radiology. 2005;234:35–43. [PubMed]
24. Agatston AS, Janowitz WR, Hildner FJ, Zusmer NR, Viamonte M, Jr, Detrano R. Quantification of coronary artery calcium using ultrafast computed tomography. J Am Coll Cardiol. 1990;15:827–832. [PubMed]
25. O'Leary DH, Polak JF, Kronmal RA, Manolio TA, Burke GL, Wolfson SK., Jr Carotid artery intima and media thickness as a risk factor for myocardial infarction and stroke in older adults: cardiovascular Health Study Collaborative Research Group. N Engl J Med. 1999;340:14–22. [PubMed]
26. Kim DK, Kim HJ, Han SH, Lee JE, Moon SJ, Kim BS, et al. Chlamydia pneumoniae accompanied by inflammation is associated with the progression of atherosclerosis in CAPD patients: a prospective study for 3 years. Nephrol Dial Transplant. 2008;23:1011–1018. [PubMed]
27. Ossewaarde JM, Feskens EJ, De Vries A, Vallinga CE, Kromhout D. Chlamydia pneumoniae is a risk factor for coronary heart disease in symptom-free elderly men, but Helicobacter pylori and cytomegalovirus are not. Epidemiol Infect. 1998;120:93–99. [PubMed]
28. Luchsinger JA, Pablos-Méndez A, Knirsch C, Rabinowitz D, Shea S. Relation of antibiotic use to risk of myocardial infarction in the general population. Am J Cardiol. 2002;89:18–21. [PubMed]
29. Andraws R, Berger JS, Brown DL. Effects of antibiotic therapy on outcomes of patients with coronary artery disease: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. JAMA. 2005;293:2641–2647. [PubMed]
30. Rupprecht HJ, Blankenberg S, Bickel C, Rippin G, Hafner G, Prellwitz W, et al. Impact of viral and bacterial infectious burden on long-term prognosis in patients with coronary artery disease. Circulation. 2001;104:25–31. [PubMed]
31. Kis Z, Sas K, Gyulai Z, Treso B, Petrovay F, Kapusinszky B, et al. Chronic infections and genetic factors in the development of ischemic stroke. New Microbiol. 2007;30:213–220. [PubMed]
32. Bloemenkamp DG, Mali WP, Tanis BC, Rosendaal FR, van den Bosch MA, Kemmeren JM, et al. Chlamydia pneumoniae, Helicobacter pylori and cytomegalovirus infections and the risk of peripheral arterial disease in young women. Atherosclerosis. 2002;163:149–156. [PubMed]
33. Prasad A, Zhu J, Halcox JP, Waclawiw MA, Epstein SE, Quyyumi AA. Predisposition to atherosclerosis by infections: role of endothelial dysfunction. Circulation. 2002;106:184–190. [PubMed]
34. Hagiwara N, Toyoda K, Inoue T, Shimada H, Ibayashi S, Iida M, et al. Lack of association between infectious burden and carotid atherosclerosis in Japanese patients. J Stroke Cerebrovasc Dis. 2007;16:145–152. [PubMed]
35. Khairy P, Rinfret S, Tardif JC, Marchand R, Shapiro S, Brophy J, et al. Absence of association between infectious agents and endothelial function in healthy young men. Circulation. 2003;107:1966–1971. [PubMed]
36. Ridker PM, Hennekens CH, Buring JE, Kundsin R, Shih J. Baseline IgG antibody titers to Chlamydia pneumoniae, Helicobacter pylori, herpes simplex virus, and cytomegalovirus and the risk for cardiovascular disease in women. Ann Intern Med. 1999;131:573–577. [PubMed]