Using an erythrocyte fatty acid fingerprint to predict risk of all-cause mortality: The Framingham Offspring Cohort

Michael I. McBurney, Nathan L. Tintle, Ramachandran S. Vasan, Aleix Sala-Vila, William S. Harris

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Background: RBC long-chain omega-3 (n-3) fatty acid (FA) percentages (of total fatty acids) are associated with lower risk for total mortality, but it is unknown if a suite of FAs could improve risk prediction. Objectives: The objective of this study was to compare a combination of RBC FA levels with standard risk factors for cardiovascular disease (CVD) in predicting risk of all-cause mortality. Methods: Framingham Offspring Cohort participants without prevalent CVD having RBC FA measurements and relevant baseline clinical covariates (n = 2240) were evaluated during 11 y of follow-up. A forward, stepwise approach was used to systematically evaluate the association of 8 standard risk factors (age, sex, total cholesterol, HDL cholesterol, hypertension treatment, systolic blood pressure, smoking status, and prevalent diabetes) and 28 FA metrics with all-cause mortality. A 10-fold cross-validation process was used to build and validate models adjusted for age and sex. Results: Four of 28 FA metrics [14:0, 16:1n-7, 22:0, and omega-3 index (O3I; 20:5n-3 + 22:6n-3)] appeared in ≥5 of the discovery models as significant predictors of all-cause mortality. In age- and sex-adjusted models, a model with 4 FA metrics was at least as good at predicting all-cause mortality as a model including the remaining 6 standard risk factors (C-statistic: 0.778; 95% CI: 0.759, 0.797; compared with C-statistic: 0.777; 95% CI: 0.753, 0.802). A model with 4 FA metrics plus smoking and diabetes (FA + Sm + D) had a higher C-statistic (0.790; 95% CI: 0.770, 0.811) compared with the FA (P < 0.01) or Sm + D models alone (C-statistic: 0.766; 95% CI: 0.739, 0.794; P < 0.001). A variety of other highly correlated FAs could be substituted for 14:0, 16:1n-7, 22:0, or O3I with similar predicted outcomes. Conclusions: In this community-based population in their mid-60s, RBC FA patterns were as predictive of risk for death during the next 11 y as standard risk factors. Replication is needed in other cohorts to validate this FA fingerprint as a predictor of all-cause mortality.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1447-1454
Number of pages8
JournalAmerican Journal of Clinical Nutrition
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 1 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • all-cause mortality
  • behenic acid
  • fatty acids
  • lipids
  • myristic acid
  • omega-3 index
  • palmitoleic acid
  • risk factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nutrition and Dietetics
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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