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In December 2019, in Wuhan, China, the novel coronavirus ‘severe acute respiratory syndrome 2’ (SARS-CoV-2) was discovered as the cause of a pneumonia-like illness and subsequently named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). COVID-19 spread and is now a global pandemic. With few exceptions, countries in the Northern hemisphere have higher mortality rates from COVID-19. This may be due to an increased prevalence of older people in Northern Europe at higher risk of having cardio-pulmonary and metabolic comorbidities as well as hypovitaminosis D. With increasing age, immunosenescence and ‘inflammaging’ lead to impaired and maladaptive immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 infections, contributing to the enhanced prevalence of severe COVID-19 in older patients. The association of ageing with increased vitamin D deficiency, which is associated with cardiovascular risk factors and disease and worse prognosis in COVID-19 infection, is discussed. Considerable experimental evidence demonstrates the immuno-modulatory properties of vitamin D, in particular, its role in regulating and suppressing the inflammatory cytokine response to viral respiratory infections links the importance of vitamin D sufficiency as a potential protective factor in COVID-19. There is an urgent need for prospective randomised studies to examine whether hypovitaminosis D correlates with severity of COVID-19 disease and the actual benefit of repletion. Moreover, given what has been described as a ‘pandemic of vitamin D deficiency’, especially in Europe, and in the context of the SARS-CoV-2 contagion, the authors support the call for public health doctors and physicians, with support from Governments, to prioritise and strengthen recommendations on vitamin D intake and supplementation.
The rupture of atherosclerotic plaques is the prerequisite for adverse cardiovascular events. Calcification morphology plays a critical role in plaque stability, therefore accurate calcification classification is essential for favourable patient management. Blood biomarkers may be a worthwhile approach to stratify patients based on calcification phenotype. Vitamin K-dependent Matrix γ-carboxyglutamate (Gla) protein (MGP) is a potent inhibitor of vascular calcification. Recent studies have demonstrated the potential utility of circulating non-functional MGP (dp-ucMGP) measurements to determine arterial stiffness and calcification levels. The objective of this study was to examine the relationship between circulating dp-ucMGP and calcification phenotype within symptomatic atherosclerotic lesions. Consenting patients undergoing standard endarterectomy procedures were recruited (n = 29). Fasting venous blood was collected preoperatively. Circulating plasma levels of dp-ucMGP were quantified using the inaKtif MGP (dp-ucMGP) iSYS kit. A bicinchoninic acid assay was used to standardise the total protein content present in each sample. High-resolution micro-CT imaging was conducted on the excised atherosclerotic specimens postoperatively. ImageJ post-processing was used to accurately quantify the calcification volume (≥ 130 Hounsfield Units) and determine the total number of calcified particles (3D objects counter plugin). Thirteen carotid (average age 71 years, 9 male) and fourteen peripheral lower limb (average age 65 years, 12 male) patients were examined. One patient had a carotid and a peripheral lower limb plaque (age 79, male). Peripheral lower limb specimens have larger volumes of calcification and higher numbers of calcified particles than carotid samples (472 ± 310 vs 85 ± 113mm3, p < 0.0005; 13919 ± 16034 vs 3476 ± 6208, p = 0.061.) While a higher dp-ucMGP value was noted in carotid than peripheral lower limb patients (214 ± 52 vs 169 ± 36pmol/L, p = 0.014) there was no correlation between circulating dp-ucMGP and calcification volume or number of calcified particles (rs = -0.329 and rs = 0.046). Previous research also found that peripheral lower limb lesions contain higher volumes of calcification than carotid lesions. There is currently no published data on calcified particle comparisons. Patients with symptomatic carotid disease are assumed to have a degree of peripheral arterial disease, this could explain the higher levels of circulating dp-ucMGP in carotid patients. The current study did not examine the dietary patterns of individuals with regards to Vitamin K intake or analyse other areas of the vasculature for additional calcification. This may interfere with dp-ucMGP measurements. This study serves as a preliminary investigation into the potential of dp-ucMGP as a blood based biomarker to distinguish between symptomatic atherosclerotic calcification phenotypes.
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