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BioMed Central, BMC Medical Research Methodology, 1(23), 2023

DOI: 10.1186/s12874-023-01930-8



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Cluster analysis of angiotensin biomarkers to identify antihypertensive drug treatment in population studies

This paper is made freely available by the publisher.
This paper is made freely available by the publisher.

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Abstract Background The recent progress in molecular biology generates an increasing interest in investigating molecular biomarkers as markers of response to treatments. The present work is motivated by a study, where the objective was to explore the potential of the molecular biomarkers of renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS) to identify the undertaken antihypertensive treatments in the general population. Population-based studies offer an opportunity to assess the effectiveness of treatments in real-world scenarios. However, lack of quality documentation, especially when electronic health record linkage is unavailable, leads to inaccurate reporting and classification bias. Method We present a machine learning clustering technique to determine the potential of measured RAAS biomarkers for the identification of undertaken treatments in the general population. The biomarkers were simultaneously determined through a novel mass-spectrometry analysis in 800 participants of the Cooperative Health Research In South Tyrol (CHRIS) study with documented antihypertensive treatments. We assessed the agreement, sensitivity and specificity of the resulting clusters against known treatment types. Through the lasso penalized regression, we identified clinical characteristics associated with the biomarkers, accounting for the effects of cluster and treatment classifications. Results We identified three well-separated clusters: cluster 1 (n = 444) preferentially including individuals not receiving RAAS-targeting drugs; cluster 2 (n = 235) identifying angiotensin type 1 receptor blockers (ARB) users (weighted kappa κw = 74%; sensitivity = 73%; specificity = 83%); and cluster 3 (n = 121) well discriminating angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors (ACEi) users (κw = 81%; sensitivity = 55%; specificity = 90%). Individuals in clusters 2 and 3 had higher frequency of diabetes as well as higher fasting glucose and BMI levels. Age, sex and kidney function were strong predictors of the RAAS biomarkers independently of the cluster structure. Conclusions Unsupervised clustering of angiotensin-based biomarkers is a viable technique to identify individuals on specific antihypertensive treatments, pointing to a potential application of the biomarkers as useful clinical diagnostic tools even outside of a controlled clinical setting.