Original Research

Lipoprotein(a) Elevation: A New Diagnostic Code with Relevance to Service Members and Veterans

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The apo(a) contributes to the increased density of Lp(a) compared to LDLC with associated reduced binding affinity to the LDL receptor. This reduced receptor binding affinity is a presumed mechanism for the lack of Lp(a) plasma level response to statin therapies, which increase hepatic LDL receptor activity. 47 Apo(a) evolved from the plasminogen gene through duplication and remodeling and demonstrates extensive heterogeneity in protein size, with > 40 different apo(a) isoforms resulting in > 40 different Lp(a) particle sizes. Size of the apo(a) particle is determined by the number of pleated structures known as kringles. Most people (> 80%) carry 2 different-sized apo(a) isoforms. Plasma Lp(a) level is determined by the net production of apo(a) in each isoform, and the smaller apo(a) isoforms are associated with higher plasma levels of Lp(a). 45

Given the heterogeneity in Lp(a) molecular weight, which can vary even within individuals, recommendations have been made for reporting results as particle numbers or concentrations (nmol/L or mmol/L) rather than as mass concentration (mg/dL). 55 However, the majority of the large CVD morbidity and mortality outcomes studies used Lp(a) mass concentration levels in mg/ dL to characterize risk levels. 56,57 There is no standardized method to convert Lp(a) measurements from mg/dL to nmol/L. 55 Current assays using WHO standardized reagents and controls are reliable for categorizing risk levels. 58

The European Atherosclerosis Society consensus panel recommended that desirable Lp(a) levels should be below the 80th percentile (< 50 mg/dL or < 125 nmol/L) in patients with intermediate or high CVD risk. 59 Subsequent epidemiological and Mendelian randomization studies have been performed in general populations with no history of CVD and demonstrated that increased CVD risk can be detected with Lp(a) levels as low as 25 to 30 mg/dL. 56,60-63 In secondary prevention populations with prior CVD and optimal treatment (statins, antiplatelet drugs), recurrent event risk was also increased with elevated Lp(a). 63-66

Using immunoturbidometric assays, Varvel and colleagues reported the prevalence of elevated Lp(a) mass concentration levels (mg/dL) in > 500,000 US patients undergoing clinical evaluations based on data from a referral laboratory of patients. 58 The mean Lp(a) levels were 34.0 mg/dL with median (interquartile range [IQR]) levels at 17 (7-47) mg/dL and overall range of 0 to 907 mg/dL. 58 Females had higher Lp(a) levels compared to males but no ethnic or racial breakdown was provided. Lp(a) levels > 30 mg/dL and > 50 mg/dL were present in 35% and 24% of subjects, respectively. Table 1 displays the relationship between various Lp(a) level cut-offs to mean levels of LDLC, estimated LDLC corrected for Lp(a), TC, HDLC, and TG. 58 The data demonstrate that Lp(a) elevation cannot be inferred from LDLC levels nor from any of the other traditional lipoprotein measures. Patients with high risk Lp(a) levels may have normal LDLC. While Lp(a) thresholds have been identified for stratification of CVD risk, the target levels for risk reduction have not been specifically defined, particularly since therapies are not widely available for reduction of Lp(a). Table 2 provides an overview of clinical lipoprotein measurements that may be reasonable targets for therapeutic interventions and reduction of CVD risk. 44,53,55 In general, existing studies suggest that radical reduction (> 80%) is required to impact long-term outcomes, particularly in individuals with severe disease. 68,69

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