Triglyceride-Rich Lipoproteins and Atherosclerotic Cardiovascular Disease: New Insights From Epidemiology, Genetics, and Biology

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Abstract

Scientific interest in triglyceride-rich lipoproteins has fluctuated over the past many years, ranging from beliefs that these lipoproteins cause atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) to being innocent bystanders. Correspondingly, clinical recommendations have fluctuated from a need to reduce levels to no advice on treatment. New insight in epidemiology now suggests that these lipoproteins, marked by high triglycerides, are strong and independent predictors of ASCVD and all-cause mortality, and that their cholesterol content or remnant cholesterol likewise are strong predictors of ASCVD. Of all adults, 27% have triglycerides >2 mmol/L (176 mg/dL), and 21% have remnant cholesterol >1 mmol/L (39 mg/dL). For individuals in the general population with nonfasting triglycerides of 6.6 mmol/L (580 mg/dL) compared with individuals with levels of 0.8 mmol/L (70 mg/dL), the risks were 5.1-fold for myocardial infarction, 3.2-fold for ischemic heart disease, 3.2-fold for ischemic stroke, and 2.2-fold for all-cause mortality. Also, genetic studies using the Mendelian randomization design, an approach that minimizes problems with confounding and reverse causation, now demonstrate that triglyceride-rich lipoproteins are causally associated with ASCVD and all-cause mortality. Finally, genetic evidence also demonstrates that high concentrations of triglyceride-rich lipoproteins are causally associated with low-grade inflammation. This suggests that an important part of inflammation in atherosclerosis and ASCVD is because of triglyceride-rich lipoprotein degradation and uptake into macrophage foam cells in the arterial intima. Taken together, new insights now strongly suggest that elevated triglyceride-rich lipoproteins represent causal risk factors for low-grade inflammation, ASCVD, and all-cause mortality.

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