The prevalence of lower extremity artery disease (LEAD) is high (20%-25%) in the population older than 65 years, but patients are seldom identified until the disease is advanced. Circulating markers of disease activity might provide patients with a key opportunity for timely treatment. We tested the hypothesis that measuring blood-specific fragments generated during degradation of the extracellular matrix (ECM) could provide further insight into the pathophysiologic mechanism of arterial remodeling.

The protein profile of diseased arteries from patients undergoing infrainguinal limb revascularization was assessed by a liquid chromatography and tandem mass spectrometry, nontargeted proteomic approach. The information retrieved was the basis for measurement of neoepitope fragments of ECM proteins in the blood of 195 consecutive patients with LEAD by specific enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays.

Histologic and proteomic analyses confirmed the structural disorganization of affected arteries. Fourteen of 81 proteins were identified as differentially expressed in diseased arteries with respect to healthy tissues. Most of them were related to ECM components, and the difference in expression was used in multivariate analyses to establish that severe arterial lesions in LEAD patients have a specific proteome. Analysis of neoepitope fragments in blood revealed that fragments of versican and collagen type IV, alone or in combination, segregated patients with mild to moderate symptoms (intermittent claudication, Fontaine I-II) from those with severe LEAD (critical limb ischemia, Fontaine III-IV).

We propose noninvasive candidate biomarkers with the ability to be clinically useful across the LEAD spectrum.