Exploring the incremental utility of circulating biomarkers for robust risk prediction of incident atrial fibrillation in European cohorts using regressions and modern machine learning methods

To identify robust circulating predictors for incident atrial fibrillation (AF) using classical regressions and machine learning (ML) techniques within a broad spectrum of candidate variables. In pooled European community cohorts (n = 42 280 individuals), 14 routinely available biomarkers mirroring distinct pathophysiological pathways including lipids, inflammation, renal, and myocardium-specific markers (N-terminal pro B-type natriuretic peptide [NT-proBNP], high-sensitivity troponin I [hsTnI]) were examined. Of 42 280 individuals (21 843 women [51.7%]; median [interquartile range, IQR] age, 52.2 [42.7, 62.0] years), 1496 (3.5%) developed AF during a median follow-up time of 5.7 years. Applying various ML techniques, a high inter-method consistency of selected candidate variables was observed. NT-proBNP was identified as the blood-based marker with the highest predictive value for incident AF. Relevant clinical predictors were age, the use of antihypertensive medication, and body mass index. Using different variable selection procedures including ML methods, NT-proBNP consistently remained the strongest blood-based predictor of incident AF and ranked before classical cardiovascular risk factors. The clinical benefit of these findings for identifying at-risk individuals for targeted AF screening needs to be elucidated and tested prospectively.

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