BACKGROUND: Atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) is driven by multifaceted contributions of the immune system. However, the dysregulation of immune cells that leads to ASCVD is poorly understood. We determined the association of components of innate and adaptive immunity longitudinally with ASCVD, and assessed whether arterial calcifications play a role in this association. METHODS AND FINDINGS: Granulocyte (innate immunity) and lymphocyte (adaptive immunity) counts were determined 3 times (2002-2008, mean age 65.2 years; 2009-2013, mean age 69.0 years; and 2014-2015, mean age 78.5 years) in participants of the population-based Rotterdam Study without ASCVD at baseline. Participants were followed-up for ASCVD or death until 1 January 2015. A random sample of 2,366 underwent computed tomography at baseline to quantify arterial calcification volume in 4 vessel beds. We studied the association between immunity components with risk of ASCVD and assessed whether immunity components were related to arterial calcifications at baseline. Of 7,730 participants (59.4% women), 801 developed ASCVD during a median follow-up of 8.1 years. Having an increased granulocyte count increased ASCVD risk (adjusted hazard ratio for doubled granulocyte count [95% CI] = 1.78 [1.34-2.37], P < 0.001). Higher granulocyte counts were related to larger calcification volumes in all vessels, most prominently in the coronary arteries (mean difference in calcium volume [mm3] per SD increase in granulocyte count [95% CI] = 32.3 [9.9-54.7], P < 0.001). Respectively, the association between granulocyte count and incident coronary heart disease and stroke was partly mediated by coronary artery calcification (overall proportion mediated [95% CI] = 19.0% [-10% to 32.3%], P = 0.08) and intracranial artery calcification (14.9% [-10.9% to 19.1%], P = 0.05). A limitation of our study is that studying the etiology of ASCVD remains difficult within an epidemiological setting due to the limited availability of surrogates for innate and especially adaptive immunity. CONCLUSIONS: In this study, we found that an increased granulocyte count was associated with a higher risk of ASCVD in the general population. Moreover, higher levels of granulocytes were associated with larger volumes of arterial calcification. Arterial calcifications may explain a proportion of the link between granulocytes and ASCVD.,
PLoS Medicine
Department of Epidemiology

Fani, L. (Lana), van der Willik, K.D, Bos, D, Leening, M.J.G. (Maarten J G), Koudstaal, P.J, Rizopoulos, D, … Ikram, M.K. (2020). The association of innate and adaptive immunity, subclinical atherosclerosis, and cardiovascular disease in the Rotterdam Study: A prospective cohort study. PLoS Medicine, 17(5). doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1003115