News | Cardiac Diagnostics | February 17, 2017

Heart Disease Protein Linked to Brain Damage

Netherlands study finds increased levels of NT-proBNP could act as a biomarker for brain damage

February 17, 2017 — Levels of a protein in the blood associated with heart disease are also linked to early-stage brain damage, according to a study appearing online in the journal Radiology.

Heart disease and brain disease exact a major burden on society, and the incidence is expected to increase significantly due to the rapidly aging population. Damage to both organs often occur at a subclinical stage, or before signs and symptoms of disease are evident. A substance, or marker, in the blood indicative of subclinical heart disease and brain diseases like stroke and dementia could speed the initiation of treatments and lifestyle changes, potentially slowing or even reversing the disease’s course.

One promising marker is N-terminal Pro-B-type natriuretic peptide (NT-proBNP), a protein released into the blood in response to cardiac wall stress. Blood serum levels of NT-proBNP rise when heart failure worsens and drop when it gets better. While previous studies have shown a link between heart disease and brain disease, less is known about the association between NT-proBNP and the entire spectrum of imaging markers of subclinical brain damage, like brain volume and white matter integrity.

Researchers from the Netherlands recently investigated this association in 2,397 community-dwelling middle-aged and elderly non-demented people without a clinical diagnosis of heart disease. The patients were drawn from the landmark Rotterdam Study, an ongoing, population-based study of more than 10,000 people from a suburb of Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

When the researchers compared serum levels of NT-proBNP with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) findings, they discovered a clear association between higher NT-proBNP levels and brain damage.

“We found that higher serum levels of NT-proBNP were associated with smaller brain volumes, in particular with smaller gray matter volume, and with poorer organization of the brain’s white matter,” said Meike W. Vernooij, M.D., Ph.D., the study’s lead author and a neuroradiologist at Erasmus MC University Medical Center in Rotterdam.

The findings imply a close link between the heart and brain even in presumably healthy individuals, Vernooij said.

There are several hypotheses to explain the link between cardiac dysfunction and subclinical brain damage, according to Vernooij. For instance, decreases in blood flow could lead to cerebral microvascular damage or problems in the function of the blood-brain barrier, a network of blood vessels that allow essential nutrients into the brain while blocking potentially harmful substances. Inflammatory factors associated with cardiac stress could also harm the barrier, leading to increased permeability and damage to the brain.

While NT-proBNP is currently used in a clinical setting to rule out heart failure, it is too early to say if it can play a similar role for subclinical brain damage, as the new study only looked at people at one point in time.

“We cannot rule out that the observed subclinical brain damage led to increased levels of NT-proBNP,” Vernooij said. “However, from a biological perspective, and based on animal studies, it is more likely that cardiac dysfunction affects brain changes rather than vice versa.”

Further research, including follow-up brain MRI studies and measurements of NT-proBNP, will be needed to clarify the relationship between cardiac dysfunction and subclinical brain disease, the researchers said.

For more information:


Zonneveld, H.I., Ikram, M.A., Hofman, A., Niessen, W.J., et al. "N-Terminal Pro–B-Type Natriuretic Peptide and Subclinical Brain Damage in the General Population," Radiology. Published online Dec. 7, 2016. DOI: 10.1148/radiol.2016160548

Related Content

Male Triathletes May Be Putting Their Heart Health at Risk
News | Cardiac Diagnostics | January 09, 2018
Competitive male triathletes face a higher risk of a potentially harmful heart condition called myocardial fibrosis,...
ERT Acquires iCardiac Technologies
News | Cardiac Diagnostics | December 19, 2017
ERT recently announced it has acquired iCardiac Technologies, a provider of centralized cardiac safety and respiratory...
New Study Suggests Protein Could Protect Against Coronary Artery Disease

Patients with no obstructed blood flow in the coronary arteries had higher levels of CXCL5 (blue) compared to patients with moderate levels (green) or lower levels (yellow) of CXCL5, who had increased severity of coronary obstructions (indicated by the arrows). Credit: Schisler lab

News | Cardiac Diagnostics | December 07, 2017
December 7, 2017 — The buildup of plaque in the heart’s arteries is an unfortunate part of aging.
E-cigarettes Most Likely to be Used by Alcohol Drinkers and Former Cigarette Smokers, at American Heart Association (AHA), #AHA2017.
News | Cardiac Diagnostics | December 06, 2017
December 6, 2017 — Electronic cigarettes are more frequently used by people who recently quit smoking and alcohol dri
Lack of sleep may cause heart disease in older women. American heart Association, #AHA2017
News | Cardiac Diagnostics | December 06, 2017
December 6, 2017 — Older women who do not get enough sleep were more likely to have poor cardiovascular health, accor
New Tool Predicts Risk of Heart Attack in Older Surgery Patients
News | Cardiac Diagnostics | December 05, 2017
A tool designed to more accurately predict the risk of heart attack in older patients undergoing non-cardiac surgery...
EPIC Norfolk prospective population study showed any physical activity is better than none in older adults in preventing cardiovascular disease.

The EPIC Norfolk prospective population study showed any physical activity is better than none in older adults in preventing cardiovascular disease.

News | Cardiac Diagnostics | November 24, 2017
November 24, 2017 — Any physical activity in the elderly is better than none at all for reducing cardiovascular risk,
Analytics 4 Life Presents Clinical Data on Machine-Learned Cardiac Imaging Technology at TCT 2017
News | Cardiac Diagnostics | November 01, 2017
Analytics 4 Life announced it will be presenting new clinical data on the company's ongoing Coronary Artery Disease...
American Heart Association, Verily and AstraZeneca Launch One Brave Idea Science Innovation Center
News | Cardiac Diagnostics | October 20, 2017
The American Heart Association, Verily and AstraZeneca announced the opening of the One Brave Idea Science Innovation...
Overlay Init