Role of Interleukin 18 Gene Polymorphism
in the Development of Atherosclerosis
Acta Universitatis Tamperensis,
No. 1533


By Jussi Hermesniemi
July 2010
Tampere University Press
Distributed By Coronet Books
ISBN: 9789514481185
238 pages
$87.50 Paper Original

Background: Atherosclerosis is an inflammatory disease. The process starts in childhood with the accumulation of lipid-laden macrophages (foam cells) onto the intima of the arteries. Atherosclerosis can be asymptomatic for decades, and the subsequent clinical manifestations of the disease vary from lower limb ischemia, myocardial infarction and stroke to sudden cardiac death (SCD). The subclinical development of atherosclerosis can be measured by carotid artery intima media thickness (IMT), carotid arterial elasticity (CAC) and brachial artery flow-mediated dilatation (FMD) which depicts the endothelial function. Within atherosclerotic plaques, antigen-presenting cells (i.e. macrophages) and T lymphocytes are the main players modifying the progression of the disease. Macrophages express interleukin 18 (IL-18) in response to inflammatory stimuli, and IL-18 further activates other cells. The main targets of IL-18 are the CD4+ T lymphocytes. IL-18 in combination with IL-12 stimulates the expression of the highly pro-atherosclerotic interferon-γ (IFN-γ). Both IL-18 and IFN-? have been found to be expressed in human atherosclerotic lesions and linked with the development of atherosclerosis and unstable vulnerable atherosclerotic plaques in murine models and in humans.

Aims: The present study aimed to investigate whether the variation of the IL-18 gene (SNPs rs1946519, rs360717, rs549908, rs4937100, rs5744292 and rs187238) affects 1) the development of subclinical atherosclerosis among a healthy Finnish population (Study I); 2) the expression of angiography-verified coronary artery disease (CAD) and the mortality for cardiovascular causes among a Finnish patient population (Study II); 3) the occurrence of SCD and the artery wall areas of autopsy-verified coronary atherosclerotic lesions (Studies III and IV). Finally, the purpose was to examine 4) whether the traditional risk factors interact with IL-18 gene polymorphism and modify the risk of SCD (Study IV).

Subjects and Methods: The study was based on three clinical and one autopsy study series comprising a total of over 5,000 subjects. In order to explore the frequencies of the most common haplotypes and 5 tag SNPs in the Finnish population, and to investigate the possible association between IL-18 gene polymorphism and the development of subclinical atherosclerosis, we used a study population of the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study comprising 2,282 young Finnish Caucasian adults selected randomly from the national population registry (Study I). In order to investigate whether the same 5 IL-18 tag SNPs would affect the expression of CAD, we used a subpopulation of patients (n=461) who had undergone coronary angiography in the Finnish Cardiovascular Study. Follow-up data on the whole study population (n=2152) was used to investigate if these IL-18 gene polymorphisms associate with an altered risk of death due to cardiovascular causes (Study II). Furthermore, the material of an autopsy study of 663 men (The Helsinki Sudden Death Study, HSDS) was used to assess whether a known promoter region -137 G/C SNP (rs187238) affects the occurrence of SCD and CAD, and whether this effect is modulated by known risk factors (Studies III and IV). The Tampere Vascular Study, comprising 21 atherosclerotic and 5 control samples obtained from live patients, was further utilized to verify the functional interaction in reference to the expression of IL-18 and IFN-γ (Study IV).

Results: In the Cardiovascular Risk in Young Finns Study, one major haplotype (frequency, 0.24) associated significantly with lower IMT among young healthy Caucasian men. Among women there was no similar association. The sex-by-genotype interaction in relation to IMT was significant. Other polymorphisms or haplotypes were not seen to have any effect on IMT, CAC or FMD values (Study I). Among the patient population of the Finnish Cardiovascular Risk Study, the variation of the IL-18 gene was not observed to associate significantly with cardiovascular mortality. However, among patients who had undergone coronary angiography, one major haplotype (frequency, 0.27) had a different sex-dependent impact on the expression of CAD. Among men, the carriers of this haplotype had a lower occurrence of left main branch CAD, whereas among women the haplotype was not seen to associate with the expression of CAD (Study II). This major haplotype is also the only one carrying the minor T allele of the +127 C/T tag SNP. It is also the only haplotype carrying the minor C allele of the functional promoter region -137 G/C SNP (rs187238).< IV).

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