Protein expression profiling suggests relevance of non-canonical pathways in isolated pulmonary embolism.
Patients with isolated pulmonary embolism (PE) have a distinct clinical profile from those with deep vein thrombosis (DVT)-associated PE, with more pulmonary conditions and atherosclerosis. These findings suggest a distinct molecular pathophysiology and the potential involvement of alternative pathways in isolated PE. To test this hypothesis, data from 532 individuals from the Genotyping and Molecular Phenotyping of Venous ThromboEmbolism (GMP-VTE) Project, a multi-center prospective cohort study with extensive biobanking, were analyzed. Targeted, high-throughput proteomics, machine learning, and bioinformatic methods were applied to contrast the acute-phase plasma proteomes of isolated PE patients (n=96) against those of patients with DVT-associated PE (n=276) or isolated DVT (n=160). This resulted in the identification of shared molecular processes between PE phenotypes, as well as an isolated PE-specific protein signature. Shared processes included upregulation of inflammation, response to oxidative stress, and the loss of pulmonary surfactant. The isolated PE-specific signature consisted of five proteins: interferon-γ (IFNG), glial cell line-derived neurotrophic growth factor (GDNF), polypeptide N-acetylgalactosaminyltransferase 3 (GALNT3), peptidyl arginine deiminase type-2 (PADI2) and interleukin-15 receptor subunit α (IL-15Rα). These proteins were orthogonally validated using cis protein quantitative trait loci (cis pQTLs). External replication in an independent population-based cohort (n=5,778) further validated the proteomic results, and showed that they were prognostic for incident primary isolated PE in individuals without history of VTE (median time to event: 2.9 years, interquartile range: 1.6 – 4.2 years), supporting their possible involvement in the early pathogenesis. This study has identified molecular overlaps and differences between VTE phenotypes. In particular, the results implicate non-canonical pathways more commonly associated with respiratory and atherosclerotic disease in the acute pathophysiology of isolated PE.