Is Aortic Z-score an Appropriate Index of Beneficial Drug Effect in Clinical Trials in Aortic Aneurysm Disease?

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Aortic Z-score (Z-score) is utilized in clinical trials to monitor the effect of medications on aortic dilation rate in Marfan (MFS) patients. Z-scores are reported in relation to body surface area (BSA) and therefore are a function of height and weight. However, an information void exists regarding natural, non-pharmacological changes in Z-scores as children age. We had concerns that Z-score decrease attributed to “therapeutic” effects of investigational drugs for Marfan disease connective tissue diseases might simply reflect normal changes (“filling out” of body contour) as children age. This investigation studies natural changes with age in Z-score in normal and untreated Marfan children, teasing out normal effects that might erroneously be attributed to drug benefit. (1) We first compared BMI and z-scores (Boston Children’s Hospital calculator) in 361 children with “normal” single echo exams in four age ranges (0-1, 5-7, 10-12, 15-18 years). Regression analysis revealed that aging itself decreases ascending Z-score, but not root Z-score, and that increase in BMI with aging underlies the decreased Z-scores. (2) Next, we examined Z-score findings in both “normal” and Marfan children (all pharmacologically untreated) as determined on sequential echo exams over time. Of 27 children without aortic disease with sequential echos, 19 (70%) showed a natural decrease in root Z-score and 24 (89%) showed a natural decrease in ascending Z- score, over time. Of 25 untreated MFS children with sequential echos, 12 (40%) showed a natural decrease in root Z-score and 10 (33%) showed a natural decrease in ascending Z-score. Thus, Z-score is over time affected by natural factors even in the absence of any aneurysmal pathology or medical intervention. Specifically, Z-score decreases spontaneously as a natural phenomenon as children age and with fill out their BMI. Untreated Marfan patients often showed a spontaneous decrease in Z-score. In clinical drug trials in aneurysm disease, decreasing Z-score has been interpreted as a sign of beneficial drug effect. These data put such conclusions into doubt.

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