Circulation March 27, 2018 Issue

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Dr Carolyn Lam: Welcome to Circulation on the Run, your weekly podcast summary and backstage pass to the journal and its editors. I'm Dr. Carolyn Lam, associate editor from the National Heart Centre and Duke National University of Singapore. Our featured paper this week is an in-depth paper on the cardiovascular and metabolic heterogeneity of obesity, and we will have a discussion with the authors on the clinical challenges, implications for management, and much more coming right up after these summaries.

How does MRI quantification compare with standard Doppler echo approach to identify organic mitral regurgitation and predict adverse outcomes? Well, our first paper this week addresses this question, led by first and corresponding author, Dr. Penicka from the Cardiovascular Center OLV Clinic in Belgium. These authors studied 258 asymptomatic patients with preserved left ventricular ejection fraction and chronic moderate and severe organic mitral regurgitation by echo. All patients underwent MRI to quantify regurgitant volume of this organic mitral regurgitation by subtracting aortic flow volume from the total left ventricular stroke volume. Severe organic mitral regurgitation was defined as a regurgitant volume of greater or equal to 60 milliliters.

The authors found that mean echo-derived regurgitant volume was an average 17 milliliters larger than the MRI-derived regurgitant volume. Concordant grading of organic mitral regurgitation severity with both techniques was observed in 76% of individuals. In the remaining 24% of individuals with discordant findings between the two techniques, this was mainly observed in patients with late systolic, eccentric, or multiple jets.

The MRI-derived regurgitant volume showed the highest discriminative power among all the imaging parameters to predict all cause mortality or its combination with development of indication for mitral valve surgery. Thus, this study demonstrates that MRI-derived assessments of organic mitral regurgitation are clinically accurate to identify asymptomatic patients with severe organic mitral regurgitation and at first outcomes. This may be particularly so when the mitral regurgitation is late systolic, eccentric, or multiple in jets where misclassification may occur with echo-derived approach.

The next study is the first large population-based study to analyze the association between low-dose ionizing radiation from cardiac procedures and incident cancer in adults with congenital heart disease. First author Dr. Cohen, corresponding author Dr. Marelli from McGill University, studied the population from the Quebec Congenital Heart Disease Database and performed a nested case control study comparing cancer cases with controls matched on sex, congenital heart disease severity, birth year, and age. They found that the cumulative incidence of cancer in adults with congenital heart disease between the ages of 18 and 64 years was 15%. The cumulative low-dose ionizing radiation exposure from cardiac procedures was independently associated with incident cancer after adjusting for age, sex, year of birth, congenital heart disease severity and comorbidities.

Results were similar using either the number of procedures or estimates of the effective doses with a possible dose-related response relationship between the low-dose ionizing radiation exposure level and cancer risk. Thus, increasing exposure to low-dose ionizing radiation from cardiac imaging in adults with congenital heart disease raises concerns about life-long risk of malignancy. Confirmation of these findings by prospective studies is needed to reinforce policy recommendations for radiation surveillance in patients with congenital heart disease.

The next study characterizes the long-term dynamics of potassium in heart failure and its associated risk of mortality. First and corresponding author, Dr. Nunez from Hospital Clinic University of Valencia in Spain, evaluated the prognostic implications of long-term longitudinal monitoring and dynamics of serum potassium in a prospective and consecutive cohort of patients following a hospitalization for acute heart failure. In these patients, serum potassium was measured at every physician-patient encounter, including hospital admissions and ambulatory settings.

The authors found that on a continuous scale, the followup trajectory of serum potassium levels independently predicted mortality through a U-shaped association with higher risk at both ends of the distribution, and the same was true using potassium categories. Furthermore, dynamic changes in potassium were independently associated with substantial differences in mortality risk. Persistence of normal potassium levels was linked to a higher risk of death compared to patients who maintained or returned to normal values. Conversely, potassium normalization was independently associated with a lower mortality risk.

These findings support the need for close monitoring of serum potassium after an episode of acute decompensated heart failure and suggest that maintaining serum potassium levels within normal range may be considered a therapeutic target.

The next study gives us an example of how functional metabolomics can translate into metabolomics derived biomarkers of disease mechanisms. Co-first authors, Dr. Zhang, Wei, and Li; co-corresponding authors, Dr. Zhu, Li, and Qi from Nanjing, China, studied a cohort of 2324 patients who underwent coronary angiography from four independent centers. They used a combination of ultra-performance liquid chromatography and quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry in the negative ion mode for untargeted analysis of metabolites in the plasma.

The authors identified a total of 36 differential metabolites related to coronary artery disease progression. In particular, N-Acetyl-neuraminic acid, a metabolic marker highly elevated during coronary artery disease progression, acted as a signaling molecule to trigger RhoA and Cdc42 dependent myocardial injury via activation of the Rho-RACK signaling pathway.

Silencing neuraminidase-1, which is the enzyme that regulates N-Acetyl-neuraminic acid generation, ameliorated myocardial injury in vitro and in vivo. Pharmacologic inhibition of neuraminidase by anti-influenza drugs protected cardiomyocytes and the heart from myocardial injury.

Thus, in summary, functional metabolomics identified a key role for N-Acetyl-neuraminic acid in acute myocardial injury, and targeting neuraminidase-1 may represent an unrecognized therapeutic intervention for coronary artery disease.

The final study addresses the controversy of whether high density lipoprotein, or HDL cholesterol, plays a causal role in cardioprotection. First and corresponding author, Dr. Jensen from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and colleagues, hypothesized that subspecies of HDL defined by apolipoprotein C3, a key regulator of lipoprotein metabolism, may contribute new information to prediction of cardiovascular risk.

They used immunoaffinity chromatography to measure the apo A1 concentrations of HDL that contained or lacked apolipoprotein C3, or apo C3, in two prospective studies of adults free of coronary heart disease, the Multiethnic Study of Atherosclerosis and the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health Study. They then conducted a meta-analysis that combined these results with the previously published findings from two cohort studies that used similar laboratory methodology to measure lipoproteins.

The authors identified a subspecies of HDL that contained apo C3. HDL that contained apo C3 comprised 5 to 6% of apo A1 or 10 to 15% of HDL cholesterol. In the four prospective studies, HDL containing apo C3 was associated with a greater risk of coronary heart disease, whereas HDL that lacked apo C3 was inversely associated with risk more strongly than the total HDL.

These findings support the hypothesis that apo C3 may mark a subfraction of HDL cholesterol that is associated with higher risk of coronary heart disease. These findings therefore provide novel insights for cardiovascular risk that extend beyond traditional plasma HDL cholesterol concentrations. And that brings us to a close for the summaries. Now for our feature discussion.

For today's featured discussion, we are talking about obesity, a universal issue, or is it? And when we talk about obesity, are we talking about one thing or many things? Today's in-depth review is just such a great paper. I highly recommend it to everyone. So pleased to be discussing it with Dr. Ian Neeland today from UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Ian, first of all, congratulations. A beautiful paper. I learned so much reading it, and I've got so many questions. You started off pointing out that we talk about obesity. We've always defined it by body mass index, but that may not be the ideal biomarker. I love the way you said that. So, tell us a bit more about the reason for this review.

Dr Ian Neeland: Obesity, like you said, we define it by body mass index, but body mass index is such a crude marker. It's great to use for the clinic. It's easy to implement, but it doesn't really tell us a lot of information about the person. And so you can just look at a third of the population in the US right now is thought to be obese. And if you take a third of the population, clearly not everyone has diabetes and heart disease.

So, obesity in and of itself, defined by the body mass index really is very heterogeneous, and it's not possible to use that alone to tell an individual if they're really at risk for disease. And so this review is really about getting deeper under the skin, no pun intended, to really get a sense of what it means to be obese, how the body fat plays a role in disease, and really getting to the different aspects of obesity and how we can understand it a little bit better.

Dr Carolyn Lam: Yeah. You know, Ian, you had me at hello if I could say when I read your paper because I'm from Asia, and here, the World Health Organization actually even suggests that we use lower body mass index cutoffs to define obesity, simply because there's a different relationship as well with cardiometabolic disease. So, so true, but before we get there, to maybe ethnic differences, I want to ask you something. I heard the term, obesity paradox, thrown around a lot, and sometimes I think we don't really know what we're talking about when we say obesity paradox.

I love the way, in your paper, you broke it down into four types. There are four paradoxes. Do you want to just clarify this for the audience? I think it's important.

Dr Ian Neeland: So, the obesity paradox, what we mean by that is we think that obesity causes disease and gives someone an increased risk for disease and mortality and death, but the obesity paradox means that some people who are obese we see actually have better outcomes than those who are not obese. And how to describe that paradox and why that exists is really the subject of lots and lots of research and discussion.

And so when we talk about the obesity paradox, really it's important to understand that most of the time we're talking about people who already have established disease. Let's say, for example, heart disease. So people with heart disease who are obese tend to have better outcomes than those who are not, and there are a few ways to understand that.

So people who have obesity with established disease who may have better outcomes; that's the classic obesity paradox. Then there's a paradox really about fitness and being fat and fit, and that concept that you can be fat, but if you're fit, if you're able to do exercise and you have good cardiorespiratory fitness, that you actually may be protected from disease as well. And then there's also the obesity paradox of basically the pre-obesity paradox, so that overweight, right, where you haven't yet met the threshold for obesity can also be protective in people who don't have disease. And so being a little bit plump may be protective for different diseases down the road. And then the final one is that the metabolically health obesity. When we say that, it means that the person who is obese by body mass index but doesn't really have any hypertension or diabetes or lipid abnormalities. So, that's the metabolically healthy obese person.

Those are the four types of individuals we see who may be obese but actually have better outcomes long term, and the question is why that exists. So there's a lot of thinking about it. Maybe it has to do with the fact that being normal weight nowadays, often we have older folks that are normal weight. Well, they tend to be more deconditioned. They may be frail. They may have undiagnosed disease like cancer. And that might be why those people are the worst. And there are the naysayers out there who think that it's all just about what we call confounding, so things we can't account for when we look at that. People who smoke tend to be lower weight, and obviously they have worse outcomes, and then also people who are older. So it's kind of a conundrum, this obesity paradox, but there's lots and lots of data out there coming out all the time that we keep seeing it again and again and again.

One of the areas in the paper that I wanted to address was this concept of obesity heterogeneity in the obesity paradox, meaning to say is it potentially where the body fat is that may be playing a role in which obese person gets disease, and which obese person may be protected from disease. So it could be that it's not how much fat you have but where that fat is that is really telling about what someone's risk is, and that might help to describe the obesity paradox and get us a little bit more understanding.

Dr Carolyn Lam: Yeah, now, I thought that bit was just so key and important. Not how much fat, not weight per se, but where that fat is. Do you want to elaborate on that a bit?

Dr Ian Neeland: Sure. For, I don't know, 50, 60 years we've had this concept of the apple and the pear. Right? Fat in the belly being the apple shape and fat in the pear being fat in the hips and buttocks and that being two different body types of body fat. So we have a lot of technology nowadays, and we can actually directly image body fat and where it is in the body. So we can do MRI, we can do CT, and we can actually see where the body fat is distributed and how much body fat in one area may be related to disease compared with another area.

So we've gone away from the apple and pear and really getting down to what we call body fat depots or adipose tissue depots where we deposit fat. And the area that we deposit fat that has the most risk for cardiometabolic diseases is this visceral adipose tissue or VAT. VAT is fat that's around the intra-abdominal organs, also near the kidneys, and you can't actually tell how much visceral fat someone has just by BMI or waist circumference or just looking at them. You really have to do this dedicated imaging to find out. And the reason for that is that in the belly there's two types of fat. There's the visceral fat, and there's the subcutaneous, which is the fat under the skin. Both those fat areas make up the belly fat, but they're very different. And part of the review is really going into depth about why these are different and how they're different.

They have completely different metabolic profiles, so if you would take blood, lipids, inflammatory markers, they would look completely different even in a single individual. And then if you look at the genetics of where the fat is, they're different. If you look at what these fat areas secrete, they're completely different. So it's really important to know where the fat is, and that's why I think this concept of sick fat versus healthy fat comes into play.

So, sick fat is fat that's usually in this visceral fat depot, and that is really the three central tenets we talk about are visceral fat or ectopic fat. Ectopic means fat where it doesn't belong. Then inflammation and cytokines, so secretion of abnormal factors in the blood from this fat, and then insulin resistance. So those are the three kind of tenets of this sick fat. So that's why we think that the sick fat plays a role in disease, and then there's a concept of less sick fat or healthy fat, which is maybe a sink. It actually buffers some of these cytokines and inflammation from causing disease in the body.

Dr Carolyn Lam: Yeah. I found that concept so fascinating, and just to bring it back to the obesity paradox. So, some larger people may enjoy better outcomes because they actually have a predisposition to put the fat subcutaneously perhaps, rather than viscerally. Would that be correct? You worded it so eloquently in your paper. There are some ethnicities or some genetic predispositions that could make one lose that inability to put it peripherally, and therefore it all goes viscerally, is what I got from it. And that's the stuff that puts people at risk.

Dr Ian Neeland: Yeah. We find that fat in the lower body, the hips and the buttocks, is actually in epidemiology, protective against heart disease, protective against cancer. And the problem is we don't know why some people put fat in the belly and some people put it in the hips and buttocks. There's very interesting twin-twin studies that show if someone has a predisposition for obesity, so twins may be both obese, but there is some difference in where they actually put the fat. So I think genetics certainly plays a role, but environment also plays a role. And environments, things like appropriate nutrition and physical activity can really alter genetics and help someone to put fat where it should be and prevent disease.

So this obesity paradox, this concept of putting fat where it should be, is really the next frontier for this type of research. How can we modulate it? How can we fix it?

Dr Carolyn Lam: Exactly, and I love the way you ended your review when you said, "Therefore, maybe in all our complaints and so on, saying that we want weight loss, we should actually be focusing on waist loss. You could redistribute the fat to healthy areas, not change your weight, and still become healthier." That was the concept, right?

Dr Ian Neeland: That's right. Yeah. It really is amazing, and it's been shown again and again that people can stay the same weight, but their body fat really is very plastic. It can change, and it's modifiable. And that really makes a difference with health outcomes. So whether we can do that with lifestyle changes, so there's some data to support that. There's also some data to support pharmacology, so medications may be able to move fat from one area to another. And then certainly surgery, which is now getting a lot of popularity for people who are really high risk for cardiometabolic disease. Bariatric surgery has been shown to decrease visceral fat significantly, and that may be one of the reasons why it works so well.

Dr Carolyn Lam: Exactly, Ian. Fascinating, fascinating. I tell you what. Could I just ask you to give us some take-home messages?

Dr Ian Neeland: Sure. So one take-home message I think is that we can move beyond the BMI, beyond the body mass index. Obesity is no longer just a number. It's really about the entire individual, biologic systems, what's going on, and there's just remarkable heterogeneity in the structure of obesity, where body fat is, the activity of body fat, the physiology of it, and also how it relates to diseases, either causing disease and potentially being protective for harmful outcomes.

I think it's also a key message to understand that there's sick fat and there is healthy fat and they're very different. And we can get to the bottom of those using specialized tools like imaging and special testing, but they're really very different, and not all body fat is created equal.

And then lastly, I think it's important to consider, like you mentioned earlier, that really public health and lifestyle going forward is going to be so important, and focusing on those areas that will have the biggest impact for people such as trying to promote waist loss, like you said, as opposed to weight loss. Really focusing and using our knowledge of body fat and obesity and how it's so different across individuals and populations, that it's really important to use that knowledge for our future goals and to have that mind when we recommend weight-modifying therapies for our patients.

It's really going to be a new frontier in weight. We're really moving beyond this concept of just check your weight and your height, and we can tell you what your risk is. No, it's really much more complex and complicated and much more interesting than that.

Dr Carolyn Lam: Oh, Ian, that's just so wonderful. I cannot help this last question. Who knows whether we'll put it in, but I just have to ask you. So how do you monitor your own status or your patients' status? Do you really get them DEXAs, all of them? Or PETs, FDGs? Or do you take your own weight?

Dr Ian Neeland: Yeah. I do. One thing I have noticed, I actually started an exercise and diet program for myself to improve my health about a year and a half ago. I took the research, and I said, "Okay, I'm really going to use this and apply this to my life." So, what's interesting is what I found and actually what other colleagues of mine in research are finding is that you can actually melt away visceral fat just with exercise alone, even if you don't actually go on a diet. And they've done studies like this where they do DEXA scans, and they give people high-intensity interval training. They don't give them a special diet. They just say maintain your current diet, and the visceral fat goes away.

It's really remarkable how lifestyle can be so important and make such a change. And you can see people who have diabetes who can cure their diabetes with a lifestyle program by really decreasing the visceral fat. Even if their weight doesn't change or only changes by a small amount, but their weight may change by, I don't know, five, 10 pounds, but their visceral fat may go away by 50%. And that really makes the difference.

It's obviously hard to monitor. We don't really have these tools clinically every day. Not everyone can do a DEXA and has the software to measure the visceral fat. Certainly could be coming in the future, but right now we should use the tools we do have and use the biomarkers we have and the clinical use, the waist circumference, triglycerides. These things are all surrogates for visceral fat but can be very useful to monitor for change. And it's not just about the scale. It's really about more than that with a person's metabolic status.

Dr Carolyn Lam: That is so helpful. Thank you so much, and I'm so glad you said that it was exercise, and you don't jump into a ice pool or something to try and convert the fat to brown fat or something. That's really, really encouraging to me. Thank you, Ian. This was so enjoyable. I'm sure all our listeners are thanking you as well.

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