Author + information
- Anne H. Hobbelt, MD,
- Henri M. Spronk, PhD,
- Harry J.G.M. Crijns, MD, PhD,
- Hugo Ten Cate, MD, PhD,
- Michiel Rienstra, MD, PhD and
- Isabelle C. Van Gelder, MD, PhD∗ ()
- ↵∗Department of Cardiology, University of Groningen, University Medical Center Groningen, P.O. Box 30.001, 9700 RB Groningen, the Netherlands
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is associated with thromboembolic complications due to alterations in blood flow, vascular endothelium, and hemostasis (1). Although we have clinical risk assessment scores for stroke risk to identify very-low-risk patients, these prediction rules may misclassify patients as very low risk when their actual risk is much higher (2,3). We hypothesize that elevated markers of hypercoagulability in patients without comorbidities are a manifestation of the underlying disease state of AF, and that they are elevated even in the early stages of the arrhythmia. Therefore, our aim was to assess whether there are differences in coagulation activity between young very-low-risk patients with paroxysmal AF (age of onset <60 years) and healthy control subjects.
The study was performed using data from patients participating in the AF RISK (Identification of a risk profile to guide atrial fibrillation therapy) study (NCT01510210), the Young-AF (Phenotyping young-onset atrial fibrillation patients) study, and the BIOMARKER-AF (Identification of a risk profile to guide atrial fibrillation therapy in patients with AF) study (NCT01510197). All were prospective, observational registries performed at the University Medical Center Groningen. The institutional review board approved the study protocols. All patients gave written informed consent. Control subjects without known comorbidities were recruited at the Department of Internal Medicine and Laboratory for Clinical Thrombosis and Haemostasis, Maastricht University Medical Center.
A total of 44 patients with paroxysmal AF and a CHA2DS2-VASc (Congestive Heart failure, Hypertension, Age ≥75 years, Diabetes, previous Stroke, Vascular disease, Age 65 to 74, and female Sex) score of 0 were matched 1:1 with healthy control subjects without AF based on age and sex. All patients were in sinus rhythm at blood sampling, and none of the participants received anticoagulation therapy.
Baseline assessment of the AF patients included a detailed medical history, physical examination, 12-lead electrocardiogram, collection of information on underlying diseases with cardiac ultrasound, conventional and lifestyle–related risk factors for AF, as well as blood samples for biomarker analyses. No information regarding physical examination, electrocardiogram, cardiac ultrasound, lifestyle–related risk factors, and family history was available for the healthy control group.
Selected upstream biomarkers of coagulation activity were factor IXa-antithrombin (factor IXa-AT) and factor Xa-antithrombin (factor Xa-AT) complexes. Factor IXa-AT reflects an early part of the coagulation cascade, immediately prior to factor X and prothrombin conversion. Additionally, thrombin-antithrombin (TAT) complex was measured as marker of downstream coagulation activity. Because trace amounts of thrombin are continuously formed under physiological conditions, complexes of active serine proteases with their natural inhibitor, antithrombin, are detectable in all individuals. TAT levels above 5 ng/ml are considered to be clinically relevant and reflect ongoing coagulation activity.
Mean age was 44 ± 12 years, and 52% of patients were female. Median duration of sinus rhythm at inclusion was 33 days (interquartile range [IQR]: 10 to 75 days). None of the AF patients had hypertension, vascular disease, heart failure, diabetes mellitus, or a previous stroke or transient ischemic attack. Hypercholesterolemia was present in 1 patient, and 1 patient was diagnosed with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome. Two patients had a history of thyroid dysfunction, which was stable at time of inclusion. None of the AF patients used oral anticoagulants, an angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitor, angiotensin II receptor blocker, or calcium-channel blocker. A total of 13 patients used beta-blockers, 1 patient used a statin, 5 patients were treated with a platelet aggregation inhibitor, 4 patients used class 1 antiarrhythmic drugs, and 1 patient was treated with a class 3 antiarrhythmic drug. Mean systolic blood pressure was 123 ± 14 mm Hg, and mean diastolic blood pressure was 79 ± 8 mm Hg. Median body mass index was 26 kg/m2 (IQR: 22 to 29 kg/m2). Median left ventricular ejection fraction was 57.5% (IQR: 57.5% to 60.0%), and mean left atrial volume index was 28.1 ± 7.3 ml/m2.
Factor IXa-AT was higher in AF patients (209.0 pmol/l [IQR: 174.4 to 287.3 pmol/l] vs. 136.3 pmol/l [IQR: 109.6 to 157.3 pmol/l]; p < 0.001). No difference was found in factor Xa-AT levels (536.5 pmol/l [IQR: 483.8 to 684.3 pmol/l] vs. 549.3 pmol/l [IQR: 470.1 to 605.1 pmol/l]; p = 0.29). TAT levels were normal (3.1 ng/ml [IQR: 2.5 to 4.0 ng/ml] in AF and 2.0 ng/ml [IQR: 1.4 to 3.0 ng/ml] in control subjects) (Figure 1).
Mechanisms underlying hypercoagulability in AF and its association with stroke are complex and incompletely unraveled precluding optimal stroke risk prediction (3). Under physiological conditions, ambient levels of coagulation activity are primarily driven by tissue factor/factor VIIa (4). In asymptomatic subjects at risk of thrombosis (e.g., with congenital deficiency in a natural anticoagulant protein, such as protein C), levels of some coagulation activity markers may be elevated without apparent increase in thrombin and/or fibrin formation (4). This so-called prethrombotic state has been postulated to be based on an increased activity of TF-related factor IXa generation, which in absence of activated factor VIII, fails to yield sufficient factor IXa/factor VIIIa complex formation, required to increase factor X conversion and subsequent thrombin generation (5).
Important strengths of our analysis include the careful evaluation of included AF patients. Limitations are the result of the cross-sectional study design retaining conclusions on cause-effect relations. Furthermore, the small sample size causes our data to be insufficient to inform whether comorbidities and structural myocardial alterations influence the hypercoagulable state.
In conclusion, our data suggest that in very-low-risk patients with paroxysmal AF, the elevated factor IXa-AT levels may be interpreted as a first signal of hypercoagulability reflecting a prethrombotic state. Obviously, further research is warranted.
Please note: This research is performed within the framework of the Center for Translational Molecular Medicine, project COHFAR (grant 01C-203), and is supported by the Netherlands Heart Foundation (grant 2010-B233). Drs. Spronk, Crijns, Ten Cate, Rienstra, and Van Gelder have received support from the Netherlands Cardiovascular Research Initiative: an initiative with support from the Netherlands Heart Foundation (CVON 2014-9), during the conduct of the study. Dr. Ten Cate has served as a consultant to Stago; and has received research support from Bayer. Dr. Van Gelder has received grants for the institute from Medtronic; and has received fees for the institute from Bayer, Bristol-Myers Squibb, and Daiichi-Sankyo outside of the submitted work. Dr. Hobbelt has reported that she has no relationships relevant to the contents of this paper to disclose. The results of this research were presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2016, November 15, 2016.
- 2017 American College of Cardiology Foundation
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