BACKGROUND: Arterial stiffness predicts cardiovascular outcomes. The complement system, particularly the alternative complement pathway, has been implicated in cardiovascular diseases. We herein investigated the associations of factor D, the rate-limiting protease of the alternative pathway, and C3, the central complement component, with arterial stiffness.
METHODS: In 3019 population-based participants (51.9% men, 60.1 ± 8.2 years, 27.7% type 2 diabetes [T2D], oversampled]), we measured carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity (cfPWV), carotid distensibility coefficient (DC) and carotid Young's elastic modulus (YEM), and plasma concentrations of factors D and C3. We conducted multiple linear regression to investigate the association of factors D and C3 (main independent variables, standardized) with cfPWV (primary outcome) and DC and YEM (secondary outcomes), adjusted for potential confounders.
RESULTS: Per SD higher factors D and C3, cfPWV was 0.41 m/s [95% confidence interval: 0.34; 0.49] and 0.33 m/s [0.25; 0.41] greater, respectively. These associations were substantially attenuated when adjusted for age, sex, education, mean arterial pressure, and heart rate (0.08 m/s [0.02; 0.15] and 0.11 m/s [0.05; 0.18], respectively), and were not significant when additionally adjusted for T2D, waist circumference and additional cardiovascular risk factors (0.06 m/s [-0.01; 0.13] and 0.01 m/s [-0.06; 0.09], respectively). Results were comparable for carotid YEM and DC. In persons with T2D, but not in those without, the association between factors D and cfPWV was significant in the fully adjusted model (0.14 m/s, [0.01; 0.27], P = 0.038, Pinteraction < 0.05).
CONCLUSION: The strong association of plasma factors D and C3 with arterial stiffness in this population-based cohort was not independent of T2D and other metabolic risk factors. Our data suggest that a possible causal pathway starting from alternative complement activation may via hypertension and T2D contribute to greater arterial stiffness.