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Eur Heart J. 2018 Jun 21;39(24):2282-2288. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehy165.

Arterial stiffening is a heritable trait associated with arterial dilation but not wall thickening: a longitudinal study in the twins UK cohort.

Author information

Department of Clinical Pharmacology, King's College London British Heart Foundation Centre, St Thomas' Hospital, Lambeth Palace Road, London, UK.
Division of Cardiology, Department of Pediatrics, UT Southwestern Medical Center, 1935 Medical District Drive B3.09, Dallas, TX, USA.
Division of Imaging Sciences and Biomedical Engineering, King's College London, St Thomas' Hospital, London, UK.
Department of Twin Research and Genetic Epidemiology, King's College London, St Thomas' Hospital, Lambeth Palace Road, London, UK.



Vascular ageing is characterized by arterial stiffening, dilation, and arterial wall thickening. We investigated the extent to which these changes are related and their heritability during 5 year follow-up in the Twins UK cohort.

Methods and results:

Carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity (PWVcf), carotid diameter, carotid distensibility, and carotid intima-media thickness (IMT) were measured in 762 female twins (mean age 57.9 ± 8.6 years) at two time-points over an average follow-up of 4.9 ± 1.5 years. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was performed in a sub-sample of 38 women to measure aortic pulse wave velocity (PWVaorta), diameter, and wall thickness. Heritability of changes in arterial wall properties was estimated using structural equation modelling. Annual increases in PWVcf, carotid diameter, distensibility, and IMT were 0.139 m/s, 0.028 mm, -0.4 kPa-1, and 0.011 mm per year, respectively. In regression analysis, predictors of progression in PWVcf included age, mean arterial pressure (MAP), and heart rate (HR) at baseline, and progression in MAP, HR, and body mass index (BMI). Predictors of progression in IMT included progression in MAP, BMI, and triglyceride levels. Progression of PWV and distensibility correlated with progression in carotid diameter but not with IMT. Heritability of progression of PWVcf, diameter, and IMT was 55%, 21%, and 8%, respectively. In a sub-sample of women that underwent MRI, aortic wall thickness increased by 0.19 mm/year, but aortic wall thickening was not correlated with an increase in lumen diameter or PWVaorta.


Arterial stiffening, as measured by PWVcf, and dilation are heritable but independent of arterial wall thickening. Genetic and cardiovascular risk factors contribute differently to progression of PWV and IMT.

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