JOURNAL ARTICLE

Premature carotid atherosclerosis: does it occur in both familial hypercholesterolemia and homocystinuria? Ultrasound assessment of arterial intima-media thickness and blood flow velocity

P Rubba, M Mercuri, F Faccenda, A Iannuzzi, C Irace, P Strisciuglio, A Gnasso, R Tang, G Andria, M G Bond
Stroke; a Journal of Cerebral Circulation 1994, 25 (5): 943-50
8165688

BACKGROUND AND PURPOSE: Homocystinuria due to cystathionine beta-synthase deficiency and familial hypercholesterolemia are inherited disorders of metabolism that are associated with premature development of cardiovascular disease. This study addresses the possibility that different patterns of carotid wall damage and cerebral blood flow hemodynamics are present in these two metabolic diseases.

METHODS: Twelve patients with homocystinuria due to cystathionine beta-synthase deficiency (mean age, 24 years), 10 patients with homozygous familial hypercholesterolemia (mean age, 26 years), and 11 healthy control subjects (mean age, 26 years) underwent a vascular examination by noninvasive methods. B-mode ultrasound imaging was used to obtain measurements of intima-media thickness of common carotid, bifurcation, and internal carotid arteries as an index of atherosclerosis. Cerebral blood flow velocity was estimated from vascular examination of the middle cerebral artery by transcranial Doppler. Systolic, diastolic, and mean velocities were measured. Pulsatility index, a possible indicator of vascular resistance in the cerebral circulation, was also calculated.

RESULTS: Mean maximum intima-media thickness was 1.4 mm in patients with familial hypercholesterolemia, 0.6 mm in patients with homocystinuria, and 0.6 mm in control subjects. The difference between hypercholesterolemic and homocystinuric patients or control subjects was statistically significant (P < .001). Diastolic blood flow velocities were significantly reduced in the middle cerebral arteries of hypercholesterolemic patients compared with homocystinuric patients or control subjects (P < .05), whereas systolic or mean velocities did not differ. The pulsatility index, a possible indicator of vascular resistance in the cerebral circulation, was significantly higher in hypercholesterolemic patients compared with homocystinuric patients or healthy control subjects (P < .01). A direct relation was demonstrated between pulsatility index of the middle cerebral artery and mean maximum intima-media thickness of carotid arteries on the same side (P < .001).

CONCLUSIONS: Familial hypercholesterolemia is responsible for diffuse and focal thickening of carotid arteries and possibly also for hyperlipidemic endothelial dysfunction extending to small resistance arteries and leading to a disturbed cerebral blood flow. Patients with homocystinuria due to homozygosis for cystathionine beta-synthase deficiency seldom have plaques in their carotid arteries. They are similar to healthy control subjects with regard to both intima-media thickness and blood flow velocity in the middle cerebral artery. Therefore, it is unlikely that typical atherosclerotic lesions precede thrombotic events in homocystinuria. However, it is possible that arterial dilatations caused by medial damage lead to thrombosis in homocystinuric patients.

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