Background: Circulating markers indicating the instability of atherosclerotic plaques could have diagnostic value in unstable angina or acute myocardial infarction. We evaluated pregnancy-associated plasma protein A (PAPP-A), a potentially proatherosclerotic metalloproteinase, as a marker of acute coronary syndromes. Methods: We examined the level of expression of PAPP-A in eight culprit unstable coronary plaques and four stable plaques from eight patients who had died suddenly of cardiac causes. We also measured circulating levels of PAPP-A, C-reactive protein, and insulin-like growth factor I (IGF-I) in 17 patients with acute myocardial infarction, 20 with unstable angina, 19 with stable angina, and 13 controls without atherosclerosis. Results: PAPP-A was abundantly expressed in plaque cells and extracellular matrix of ruptured and eroded unstable plaques, but not in stable plaques. Circulating PAPP-A levels were significantly higher in patients with unstable angina or acute myocardial infarction than in patients with stable angina and controls (P<0.001). A PAPP-A threshold value of 10 mIU per liter identified patients who had acute coronary syndromes with a sensitivity of 89.2 percent and a specificity of 81.3 percent. PAPP-A levels correlated with levels of C-reactive protein and free IGF-I, but not with markers of myocardial injury (troponin I and the MB isoform of creatine kinase). Conclusions: PAPP-A is present in unstable plaques, and circulating levels are elevated in acute coronary syndromes; these increased levels may reflect the instability of atherosclerotic plaques. PAPP-A is a new candidate marker of unstable angina and acute myocardial infarction.
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