A potential mechanism by which smoking affects ischemic stroke is through wider venules, but this mediating role of wider venules has never been quantified. Here, we aimed to estimate to what extent the effect of smoking on ischemic stroke is possibly mediated by the venules via the recently developed four-way effect decomposition. This study was part of a population-based study including 9109 stroke-free persons participated in the study in 1990, 2004, or 2006 (mean age: 63.7 years; 58% women). Smoking behavior (smoking versus non-smoking) was identified by interview. Retinal venular calibers were measured semi-automatically on retinal photographs. Incident strokes were assessed until January 2016. A regression-based approach was used with venular calibers as mediator to decompose the total effect of smoking compared to non-smoking into four components: controlled direct effect (neither mediation nor interaction), pure indirect effect (mediation only), reference interaction effect (interaction only) and mediated interaction effect (both mediation and interaction). During a mean follow-up of 12.5 years, 665 persons suffered an ischemic stroke. Smoking increased the risk of developing ischemic stroke compared to non-smoking with an excess risk of 0.41 (95% confidence interval 0.10; 0.67). With retinal venules as a potential mediator, the excess relative risk could be decomposed into 77% controlled direct effect, 4% mediation only, 4% interaction only, and 15% mediated interaction. To conclude, in the pathophysiology of ischemic stroke, the effect of smoking on ischemic stroke may partly explained by changes in the venules, where there is both pure mediation and mediated interaction.

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doi.org/10.1007/s10654-018-0436-2, hdl.handle.net/1765/110401
European Journal of Epidemiology
Department of Epidemiology

Mutlu, Ü., Swanson, S.A. (Sonja A.), Klaver, C., Hofman, A. (Albert), Koudstaal, P., Ikram, M.A. (Muhammad Arfan), & Ikram, M.K. (Muhammad Kamran). (2018). The mediating role of the venules between smoking and ischemic stroke. European Journal of Epidemiology. doi:10.1007/s10654-018-0436-2