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Circulation on the Run

Feb 20, 2023

This week, please join author Amil Shah and Associate Editor Ntobeko Ntusi as they discuss the article "Stages of Valvular Heart Disease Among Older Adults in the Community: The Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study."

Dr. Carolyn Lam:

Welcome to Circulation on the Run, your weekly podcast summary and backstage pass to the journal and its editors. We're your co-hosts. I'm Dr. Carolyn Lam, associate editor from the National Heart Center and Duke National University of Singapore.

Dr. Greg Hundley:

And I'm Dr. Greg Hundley, associate editor, Director at the Pauley Heart Center at VCU Health in Richmond, Virginia.

Carolyn, this week's feature, very interesting. Many times in older individuals we understand how to manage severe valvular heart disease, for example, severe aortic stenosis. But do we really know how to manage individuals with mild valvular heart disease, for example, mild mitral regurgitation or aortic valve sclerosis?

Well, our feature today will address that issue. And so, listeners, grab a cup of coffee. We're going to go through some of the other articles in the issue first, and then we'll get to that really interesting, very practical feature discussion.

Well Carolyn, now that I've got my cup of coffee, this paper's from your group. And I'm going to ask you, Carolyn, as if it was a feature discussion, what was the background information that went into this and what was the hypothesis that you wanted to address?

Dr. Carolyn Lam:

Oh, it's great because it's at least not a Carolyn quiz, so I'm very happy to talk to you about it. Sex differences, as you know, it's a passion of mine.

And in response to heart failure pharmacotherapies, in particular, we know that there are sex differences, wherein women appear to benefit from newer hormonal modulators across a wider heart failure ejection fraction range compared to men. And this was particularly evident in the Paragon heart failure trial of Arne versus Valsartan.

However, whether these considerations also apply to the sodium-glucose Cotransporter 2 inhibitors or SGLT 2 inhibitors, remains unclear. So along with the groups from the DAPA-HF and DELIVER trial, we therefore examine and assess the impact of sex on the efficacy and safety of dapagliflozin in a pre-specified pooled analysis of these trials.

Dr. Greg Hundley:

Very interesting, Carolyn. So, differences between men and women and evaluation of efficacy of SGLT 2 inhibitors. So what did you find?

Dr. Carolyn Lam:

In essence, women and men derived similar benefits from dapagliflozin for both the primary outcome of worsening heart failure or cardiovascular death. And for secondary outcomes, including improvement in health status across the full spectrum of ejection fraction in heart failure.

Dapagliflozin was also safe and well tolerated in both sexes. So these findings are consistent with other SGLT 2 inhibitors and suggest a class effect. And in fact, this is very, very nicely discussed in an accompanying editorial by Dr. Ileana Piña.

Dr. Greg Hundley:

Ah, very nice, Carolyn. Well, my first study here comes from the world of preclinical science. And Carolyn, this study assesses the role of epsins in modulating endothelial to mesenchymal transition in atherosclerosis.

So Carolyn, you may ask what are epsins? Well, epsins are ubiquitously expressed adapter proteins involved in the regulation of endocytosis. And then Carolyn, there's a second process addressed in this study. And Carolyn, it is known that chronic vascular inflammation, a hallmark of atherosclerosis, induces a process called endothelial to mesenchymal transition.

And during endothelial to mesenchymal transition, the transition of non-smooth muscle cell-derived cells that are capable of maintaining indices of atherosclerotic lesion stability are lost. And this allows atherosclerosis to progress to a more advanced stage.

So Carolyn, in this study led by Dr. Hong Chen, from Boston Children's Hospital, these authors wanted to know if impacting epsins could reduce endocytosis and thereby modify endothelial to mesenchymal transition and attenuate atherosclerosis progression.

Dr. Carolyn Lam:

Sounds like an important concept to address in the progression of atherosclerosis. So what did they find, Greg?

Dr. Greg Hundley:

Right, Carolyn. So the authors found that epsins are required for endothelial to mesenchymal transition, and that the loss of these proteins in the endothelium reduces endothelial to mesenchymal transition by permitting sustained fibroblast growth factor receptor-1 protein, FGRF1, signaling by inhibiting the degradation of this receptor complex.

They also demonstrate the efficacy of blocking epsin FGRF1 interactions specifically in atheromas using systemic administration of a targeted epsin UIM containing peptide to inhibit endothelial to mesenchymal transition and atherosclerosis progression in APO deficient and PCSK9 mutant viral induced atherosclerotic models.

So Carolyn, in summary, these authors show that blocking these epsin FGRF1 interactions could provide a new approach to combat atherosclerosis progression.

Dr. Carolyn Lam:

Wow, Greg, thanks. Well, this next paper is an important preclinical paper showing that agents that induce senescence in cells of pulmonary vasculature can unexpectedly worsen rather than ameliorate pulmonary hypertension.

So this paper is from Professor Serge Adnot and colleagues from Hospital Henri-Mondor in France. And they began by showing that in human lung tissues from pulmonary hypertension patients, about 30% of lung endothelial and smooth muscle cells have elevated P16, an observation recently also reported by others, as further evidence of senescence.

Many of the cells with elevated P16 also had an increase in unrepaired DNA damage. They then used multiple senolytic strategies in several animal models to remove senescent cells and then found unexpectedly that eliminating senescent cells aggravated rather than suppressed pulmonary hypertension development.

As models of pulmonary hypertension, the authors examined a number of animal models of pulmonary hypertension. That included rats exposed to chronic hypoxia, rats injected with the toxin monocrotaline, and rats injected with a VEGF receptor blocker prior to exposure to chronic hypoxia. As well as mice over-expressing the serotonin transporter in smooth muscle cells. And mice with P16 over-expression that develop pulmonary hypertension with age.

So lots of animal models were tested and these animals also received the senolytic ABT 263 or FOX04-DRI, that would be expected to remove senolytic cells with equivalent results.

Dr. Greg Hundley:

Wow, Carolyn, so multiple animal models highlighting that senescent cells in the pulmonary vasculature can worsen rather than attenuate pulmonary hypertension. So what are the clinical implications of these models?

Dr. Carolyn Lam:

Well, this is discussed in a beautiful editorial by Dr. Rabinovitch that accompanies this paper. And quoting from that editorial, "The study is therefore extremely important in pointing out the potential overkill of senolytics in promoting rather than reversing pulmonary hypertension.

The study also has particularly important translational implications as it indicates that the potential efficacy of an emerging therapy relies on the underlying disease mechanism and animal model use, the cell specificity dose, and root of administration."

So lots of translational implications of this paper.

Dr. Greg Hundley:

Wow, Carolyn, so we've got some other articles in this issue and it looks like you've got a great review of those to describe.

Dr. Carolyn Lam:

Sure, I'd love to tell you about them. First there's a letter from Dr. Liao regarding the article, "Association Between Device Measured Physical Activity and Incident Heart Failure: A Prospective Cohort Study of the UK Biobank Participants."

There's also a Cardiovascular Case Series by Dr. Ostrominski on "Pulling Out All The Stops: A Case of Progressive Dyspnea."

In Cardiology News by Tracy Hampton, there's a story of scientists creating spatial map of cardiac remodeling after myocardial infarction, published in Nature.

Loss of Y chromosome in myeloid cells promoting cardiac fibrosis, published in Science. And details behind the DNMT3A and TET2 mutations linking atherosclerosis. And that's published in Immunity.

There's also a Perspective piece by Dr. Somers on “Whom to Screen and How to Screen for Obstructive Sleep Apnea in The Cardiology Clinic?” And a Research Letter by Dr. Felker on the clinical implications of negatively adjudicated heart failure events, data from the Victoria study.

Dr. Greg Hundley:

Wow, Carolyn, this issue, it's just packed with information. Well, how about we get on to that feature discussion?

Dr. Carolyn Lam:

Let's go. Thanks.

Dr. Greg Hundley:

Welcome listeners, to this feature discussion on this February 21, where we're going to delve into the world of valvular heart disease. And we have with us today Dr. Amil Shah from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, and our own associate editor, Dr. Ntobeko Ntusi from Cape Town in South Africa. Welcome gentlemen.

Well Amil, we'll start with you. Could you describe for us some of the background information that really went into the preparation of your study and what was the hypothesis that you wanted to address?

Dr. Amil Shah:

Well, thanks very much, Greg, and let me start by thanking you and the circulation team for the interest in this paper and the opportunity to discuss it with you today.

So I think in terms of background, we know that the prevalence and incidence of valvular heart disease increases with age, and that severe valvular heart disease is associated with substantial morbidity and mortality.

Sub-severe valvular heart disease is, of course, even more common and has also been associated with worse cardiovascular outcomes. So I'm thinking of earlier studies that have associated even aortic sclerosis in the absence of stenosis with worse outcomes.

Acknowledging the progressive nature of valvular heart disease, the ACCHA valve guidelines adopted this framework of valvular heart disease stages, where stage A was really defined as at risk for valvular dysfunction based on valve morphology in the absence of hemodynamic perturbation.

Stage B is progressive valve dysfunctions. This is commonly what we would clinically consider mild or moderate valvular lesions. And then stage C, severe asymptomatic valve dysfunction. Stage D, severe symptomatic valve dysfunction.

And we believe that looking at valvular heart disease in the context of these stages, as opposed to just as the hemodynamic severity of the lesion, can provide important insights into the burden of valvular heart disease. And especially sub-severe valvular heart disease in at-risk individuals, and in particular in older individuals.

But the prevalence of these stages in the community and their progression over time really prior to this, to our knowledge, hasn't been described. And so really our aims and our hypotheses in this paper was to understand the prevalence of valvular heart stages amongst older adults.

And really what we anticipate is that a large proportion of individuals in late life would have at least stage A, if not stage B, valvular heart disease.

To describe the prognostic relevance of these stages, and particularly the sub-severe stages, and we anticipated that even stage A or stage B relative to no stage would be associated with worse outcomes, based on the prior literature. And finally, to characterize the rate of progression in late life.

Dr. Greg Hundley:

So rather than just the hemodynamic significance, it sounds like we're going to investigate the stages of valvular heart disease in an elderly population and associate that with prognosis. So how did we do that? What was your study design and can you describe for us also your study population?

Dr. Amil Shah:

Sure, of course. So we ended up using longitudinal data from a large cohort of older adults who are participating in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities, or ARIC study. So ARIC is an NHLBI funded longitudinal epidemiologic cohort. It's actually been following participants from four communities in the US since 1986. So Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, and Minnesota.

Echocardiography was performed in just over 6,000. So 6,118 individuals are participants in 2011 to 2013. And at that time the mean age was 76. Just under 3,000 of those individuals underwent a repeat echocardiogram in 2018 to 2019. So that's a time elapse of about six and a half years, at which time the mean age was 81. So we're really looking at how things are changing between the ages of 76 to 81 years of age.

We really focused on the mitral and aortic valves and determined or ascertained the stage of regurgitation or stenosis in those valves using a combination of quantitative and qualitative criteria based on the study echocardiograms, which are all read and interpreted centrally.

And of course, each valve gets its own stage. And so for the purposes of this paper, we classified individuals as an overall valvular heart disease stage based on whichever valve had the highest grade lesion.

Dr. Greg Hundley:

Very nice. So using the ARIC study and then following the stages. So describe for us, Amil, what were your study results?

Dr. Amil Shah:

So at the first assessment, so amongst these approximately 6,000 individuals who had imaging in 2011 and 2013, the prevalence of stage A valvular heart disease was about 39% of individuals. Stage B, which again would be progressive, was about 17% of individuals. And stage C or D, which is really severe valvular heart disease, which was just over 1% in this community based population. And again, another 1% had previously undergone valve replacement or repair.

And not surprisingly, even amongst this older cohort, older age was associated with a higher prevalence of each one of these stages. Then over a median follow up of about six and a half years, we looked at the association of each one of these stages with incident cardiovascular events relative to that group of individuals who were free of valvular heart disease stage in this cohort.

And in each one of these stages, including stage A, was associated with a higher risk of incident heart failure, incident atrial fibrillation, coronary heart disease, which is largely MI, and then all-cause mortality. And that was true after accounting for many of common cardiovascular risk factors we usually think about as being related to risk for these outcomes.

Interestingly, there was not an association with incident stroke in this study, although I will say our numbers for incident events were modest.

Dr. Greg Hundley:

Now, did you find similar results for men and for women?

Dr. Amil Shah:

So these results were fairly consistent for men, for women. And then the other demographic subgroup we looked at is... One of the unique features of ARIC is that it is a biracial cohort. And so when we looked at demographic subgroups based on both gender and race group, these trends were similar.

Dr. Greg Hundley:

And I know, Amil, right at the beginning you were discussing the importance of the stages versus the hemodynamic consequences. Did you do any comparisons, for many of us that are following patients, for example, with aortic stenosis? Did you find a discrepancy between using the stage as the defining term for a patient as opposed to the hemodynamic significance of one of these valve lesions?

Dr. Amil Shah:

Yeah, that's an excellent question. And so I think the first point to make is the valvular heart disease stages, of course, that we are assigning are based on the highest stage lesion, and so, of the four lesions we assessed. And part of this is a little nuanced, I guess, based on how the guidelines have defined these stages.

So interestingly, if you look at stage A valvular heart disease, the majority of those individuals are getting in due to mild mitral regurgitation, because mild mitral regurgitation is considered stage A. In contrast, if you look at stage B, the majority of those individuals are getting in because of mild aortic regurgitation, because mild AR is considered stage B. And then stage C/D is really driven by aortic stenosis, probably not surprisingly.

So what we can do is look not only overall, but also by stage within lesion. And certainly for aortic stenosis and mitral regurgitation, which are the most common valvular lesions we encountered, we saw similar findings.

For mitral stenosis we had very few cases. So I don't think we can really comment on that based on this study. And for aortic regurgitation, we largely had individuals with no regurgitation or mild regurgitation, only a few with moderate. So again, we're a little bit limited in commenting on that.

Dr. Greg Hundley:

Very nice. Well, thank you so much, Amil.

And listeners, now we're going to turn to our associate editor, Dr. Ntobeko Ntusi from Cape Town, South Africa. Ntobeko, you have many papers that come across your desk. What intrigued you about this particular paper?

Dr. Ntobeko Ntusi:

Thanks, Greg. I'd like to start by congratulating Amil and his co-authors on this paper, which as an associate editor was an absolute pleasure to handle.

And the reason why we liked it are two-fold. Firstly, it's a large study, simple science of over 6,000 people. Very well characterized cohort clinically. We also liked its prospective design, as well as the protocolized nature of the echocardiograms.

We liked that there was a central facility for core reading of all of these echocardiograms. And the use of a well-validated system of categorizing valvular heart disease. And importantly, we also liked the fact that it is a very representative study in terms of ethnicity and sex.

And for me, there were three important takeaway messages from this study which advance our concepts of valvular heart disease. The first is that we've known for a long time that most severe valvular heart disease is associated with poor outcomes. But for the first time, this study provides us with data that shows a clear created association between the valve stage and outcomes related to mortality incident at fila and incident AF. So this is a new contribution.

The second important novel contribution from the study is the data they provided on disease progression between stages of valvular heart disease.

And then thirdly, I really liked the figures, in particular figure three and figure four, which I think are going to be highly cited and used in many presentations.

So figure three demonstrates the Kaplan-Meier curves and shows survival rates dependent on the stage of valvular heart disease. And figure four, beautiful alluvial plot showing disease progression. And for these reasons we thought this was a piece that we would like to include in Circulation. Thanks, Greg.

Dr. Greg Hundley:

Thanks so much, Ntobeko. Well Amil, based on all this work, where are you going next? What do you see as the next study to really be performed in this sphere of research?

Dr. Amil Shah:

So two major findings I think that may have downstream consequences for future studies, first relate to identifying a subgroup A. That these valvular heart disease stages progress fairly substantially over fairly limited periods of time in late life.

And really identify older individuals with certainly stage B, but even stage A valvular heart disease as a group, not only that we should screen with follow up, as recommended by the guidelines when we do detect sub-severe valvular lesions. But also potentially for therapeutics to prevent progression as those become increasingly available. And so I think one place where this data may be very helpful is in thinking about at-risk groups to evaluate therapeutics in.

I think the second place is this relationship of even stage A valvular heart disease with adverse outcomes, which I think suggests that when we see valve deformation on imaging, that is likely a marker of risks that we're not fully capturing using our other traditional cardiovascular risk factors. And potentially could begin to become incorporated into how we think about risk stratifying our patients.

Dr. Greg Hundley:

Very nice. Ntobeko, do you have anything to add?

Dr. Ntobeko Ntusi:

Indeed. So I think in terms of future directions, there are probably three questions that I think would be important in taking this work forward.

The first one is that this is clearly a descriptive epidemiological study. And for me it would be interesting to look at some of the mechanisms that underlie the adverse clinical outcomes associated with different stages of valvular heart disease.

Two, the follow-up is relatively short and I think that it will be interesting as these individuals continue to be followed up long term, to see how these observations are either strengthened or evolve over time.

And then finally, which is probably not going to be possible with the ARIC cohort. I think it would be useful to also look at rates of disease progression, but also the associations with outcomes in a younger cohort. And so for me, those would be interesting future ways of taking this work forward in the future. Thank you, Greg.

Dr. Greg Hundley:

Very nice. Well, listeners, we're going to wrap up and we want to thank Dr. Amil Shah from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts, and our associate editor, Dr. Ntobeko Ntusi from Cape Town in South Africa, for bringing us this study highlighting that subclinical valvular heart disease is common in older adults with 39% at risk for stage A, and 17% with progressive valvular heart disease, or stage B. And they are independently associated with the risk of incident cardiovascular events.

Well, on behalf of Peder, Carolyn and myself, we want to wish you a great week and we will catch you next week on the run. This program is copyright of the American Heart Association 2023. The opinions expressed by speakers in this podcast are their own and not necessarily those of the editors or of the American Heart Association. For more, please visit