ARBs, Beta-Blockers Independently Inhibit Marfan Syndrome Progression

Ted Bosworth

August 31, 2022

Beta-blockers have long been recommended to prevent aortic dissection associated with Marfan syndrome despite limited evidence, but a new analysis also supports a benefit from angiotensin receptors blockers (ARBs) and further suggests that beta-blockers and ARBs exert independent effects.

For the endpoint of inhibition of growth of the aortic root, "there is no evidence of any interaction between the effects of ARBs with beta-blockers, and so we think that the treatment effects are likely to be additive," reported Alex Pitcher, BMBCh, DPhil, Oxford (England) University Hospitals, NHS Trust.

Based on these data, Pitcher recommended considering ARBs and beta-blockers together soon after the diagnosis of Marfan syndrome. This includes young children.

"We think that medical treatments can delay surgery and dissection substantially if given for a number of years," he added.

In this study, undertaken by the Marfan Treatment Trialists (MTT) collaboration, data were available from 1,442 Marfan syndrome patients participating in seven treatment trials. The primary outcome was aortic root enlargement, a predictor of life-threatening aortic dissection and rupture. Rather than a meta-analysis of the pooled data, the meta-analysis was conducted with individual patient data that involved collaboration with the original trialists.

Four of the studies with 746 patients compared ARBs to placebo or a control medication. A second group of three trials with 766 patients compared ARBs to beta-blockers.

From the two sets of data, a calculation of the effect of beta-blockers was indirectly estimated.

ARBs Slow Annualized Aortic Growth Rate Significantly

In the first set of trials, the analysis showed a significantly slower annualized aortic root growth rate for those treated with ARBs relative to controls (0.07 vs. 0.13), producing a statistically significant absolute difference (0.7%; P = .01) in favor of the ARB.

"In other words, the rate of growth was nearly double in the control arm," Pitcher said.

In the three trials comparing ARBs to beta-blockers, the annualized growth rate among those taking an ARB was similar (0.8%) to that seen in the previous set of controlled trials. This rate of annualized growth was not significantly different from the 0.11% annualized rate of growth in patients receiving beta-blockers. When an analysis of the impact of beta-blockers was conducted by indirectly evaluating the change in growth relative to controls, the estimated impact was an annualized growth rate of 0.9% (P = .042).

A second set of data provided the basis for suggesting that the effects of beta ARBs and beta-blockers are independent and potentially additive.

"We were able to look at subgroups of patients in the ARB trials that were broken down by whether they were or were not on beta-blockers at baseline, and so by doing able to estimate independent effects," Pitcher said. The lack of any interactions led Pitcher to conclude that benefits are likely additive.

Of patients genotyped in the ARB studies, more than 80% had the FBN1 pathogenic variant of Marfan syndrome. When the data were analyzed by subgroups, including age or blood pressure, there were no differences in treatment effect except for those with the FBN1 mutation in whom the benefit of ARB therapy was greater relative to those without.

As FBN1 is one of the most common genetic signatures of Marfan syndrome, the "greater effect of ARBs in this group makes it more plausible that the effect is real," Pitcher said.

Results Could Change Treatment Guidelines

Current guidelines recommend beta-blockers in Marfan syndrome prior to a dilatation size of 4.5 to 5 cm when surgery is indicated, according to Pitcher, but he said these data might change guidelines. While reinforcing the benefit of beta-blockers, this analysis suggests ARBs should also be considered, possibly in combination with beta-blockers.

"What I hope this meta-analysis does is add substantially to the certainty with which physicians can discuss treatments with patients."

As for the mechanism, it is reasonable to speculate the antihypertensive effect of both medications is relevant, but each has plausible independent activities that might contribute to modifying aortic growth, according to Roland R.J. van Kimmenade, MD, PhD, a specialist in aortic diseases and heart failure at Raboud University Medical Center, Nijmegan, the Netherlands.

Citing several studies, he suggested that the benefit of beta-blockers could also stem from their ability to reduce heart rate and aortic stiffness while ARBs are likely to inhibit the interaction between the renin-angiotensin system (RAS) and TGF-beta pathway. Each of these might participate in risk of aortic root growth, according to van Kimmenade, who was invited by ESC to discuss this study.

On the basis of these data as well as past studies, he agreed that the combination of beta-blockers and ARBs might not just be additive but "even a little bit synergistic."

While Pitcher suggested that the evidence supports starting both beta-blockers and ARBs soon after the diagnosis, van Kimmenade said, "I don't like using beta-blockers in young patients, but ARBs are now shown to be an excellent alternative."

Ultimately, "the prescription pencil will not replace the surgical knife" in a disease that is likely to eventually require surgery to prevent life-threatening events, according to van Kimmenade, but he agreed that these data provide more certainty about the value of beta-blockers and ARBs for slowing progression.

Pitcher reports no potential conflicts of interest. Van Kimmenade has financial relationships with Bayer and Novartis.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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