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May 18, 2022

Lipoprotein(a) and its Significance in Cardiovascular Disease: A Review

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Medicine, Yale New Haven Health, Bridgeport, Connecticut
  • 2Division of Cardiovascular Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, Massachusetts
JAMA Cardiol. 2022;7(7):760-769. doi:10.1001/jamacardio.2022.0987

Importance  Lipoprotein(a) (Lp[a]) is a low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol–like particle bound to apolipoprotein(a). This novel marker of cardiovascular disease acts through induction of vascular inflammation, atherogenesis, calcification, and thrombosis. While an absolute risk threshold remains to be universally accepted, an estimated 20% to 25% of the global population have Lp(a) levels of 50 mg/dL or higher, a level noted by the European Atherosclerosis Society to confer increased cardiovascular risk.

Observations  Compelling evidence from pathophysiological, observational, and genetic studies suggest a potentially causal association between high Lp(a) levels, atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, and calcific aortic valve stenosis. Additional evidence has demonstrated that elevated Lp(a) levels are associated with a residual cardiovascular risk despite traditional risk factor optimization, including LDL cholesterol reduction. These findings have led to the formulation of the Lp(a) hypothesis, namely that Lp(a) lowering leads to cardiovascular risk reduction, intensifying the search for Lp(a)-reducing therapies. The ineffectiveness of lifestyle modification, statins, and ezetimibe to lower Lp(a); the modest Lp(a) reduction with proprotein convertase subtilisin/kexin type 9 inhibitors; the adverse effect profile and unclear cardiovascular benefit of pharmacotherapies such as niacin and mipomersen; and the impracticality of regular lipoprotein apheresis represent major challenges to currently available therapies. Nevertheless, emerging nucleic acid–based therapies, such as the antisense oligonucleotide pelacarsen and the small interfering RNA olpasiran, are generating interest because of their potent Lp(a)-lowering effects. Assessment of new-onset diabetes in patients achieving very low Lp(a) levels will be important in future trials.

Conclusions and Relevance  Epidemiologic and genetic studies suggest a potentially causal association between elevated Lp(a) levels, atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, and aortic valve stenosis. Emerging nucleic acid–based therapies have potent Lp(a)-lowering effects and appear safe; phase 3 trials will establish whether they improve cardiovascular outcomes.

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