Orlando - Collaborative research from Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania has shown that psoriasis patients have an increased risk of heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular death, especially if the psoriasis is moderate to severe. Now, Penn researchers have discovered the potential underlying mechanism by which the inflammatory skin disease impacts cardiovascular health. In two new studies presented at the 2011 American Heart Association Scientific Sessions, Penn researchers show that the systemic inflammatory impact of psoriasis may alter both the makeup of cholesterol particles and numbers, as well as impair the function of high density lipoprotein (HDL), the "good" cholesterol.
"Anecdotally, many researchers have observed that HDL levels may be lower in states of inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis and even obesity," said lead study author Nehal Mehta, MD, MSCE, director of Inflammatory Risk in Preventive Cardiology at Penn. "However, these new findings suggest that in addition to lower levels, chronic inflammation associated with conditions like psoriasis may change the composition and decrease the function of HDL as well."
In the current studies, researchers enrolled 78 patients with psoriasis and 84 control subjects. In the first study, the authors measured fasting lipid levels and examined the number and size of cholesterol particles using nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. This analysis revealed that patients with psoriasis had a higher number of smaller LDL particles, or "bad" cholesterol, which was independent of traditional risk factors and obesity. "It was striking that the NMR profiles from patients with psoriasis resembled those seen in patients with diabetes, and that these patients with psoriasis had otherwise normal traditional lipid panels" Dr. Mehta added.
In the second study, the researchers measured HDL efflux, which is the ability of a patient's HDL to remove cholesterol from cells involved in atherosclerosis. This process, known as 'reverse cholesterol transport', is why HDL may have protective properties. In a previous study, researchers at Penn have demonstrated that measuring HDL efflux capacity may be a more effective barometer of protection from heart disease than measuring HDL levels alone.
In this same group of patients who had normal cholesterol levels compared to controls, patients with psoriasis demonstrated dramatically reduced HDL efflux capacity compared to control patients. This negative association observed between psoriasis and HDL efflux persisted after adjusting for traditional lipid levels and other traditional risk factors, including body mass index (BMI).
"Patients with psoriasis had an approximate 25 percent reduction in the HDL efflux capacity than the controls, despite their relatively normal overall lipid profiles which leads to the question of whether function is more important than concentration in chronic inflammatory states" Dr. Mehta noted.
The new findings may provide a critical clue to the link between psoriasis and heart disease, but the researchers say larger studies are needed to validate their findings. Joel M. Gefland, MD, MSCE, assistant professor of Dermatology and Epidemiology, and a senior author on the studies, said "We've been able to show that psoriasis is an important risk factor for vascular disease, and now we may finally be able to identify and ultimately treat the pathways by which psoriasis increases these risks."
The work was a multidisciplinary collaboration between the Penn Medicine Cardiovascular Institute, the Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, Department of Dermatology, and the Division of Translational Medicine and Human Genetics.
Penn Medicine is one of the world's leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation's first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $4 billion enterprise.
Penn's Perelman School of Medicine is currently ranked #2 in U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools and among the top 10 schools for primary care. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $507.6 million awarded in the 2010 fiscal year.
The University of Pennsylvania Health System's patient care facilities include: The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania -- recognized as one of the nation's top 10 hospitals by U.S. News & World Report; Penn Presbyterian Medical Center; and Pennsylvania Hospital - the nation's first hospital, founded in 1751. Penn Medicine also includes additional patient care facilities and services throughout the Philadelphia region.
Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2010, Penn Medicine provided $788 million to benefit our community.