Warfarin-induced artery calcification is accelerated by growth and vitamin D

Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2000 Feb;20(2):317-27. doi: 10.1161/01.atv.20.2.317.


The present studies demonstrate that growth and vitamin D treatment enhance the extent of artery calcification in rats given sufficient doses of Warfarin to inhibit gamma-carboxylation of matrix Gla protein, a calcification inhibitor known to be expressed by smooth muscle cells and macrophages in the artery wall. The first series of experiments examined the influence of age and growth status on artery calcification in Warfarin-treated rats. Treatment for 2 weeks with Warfarin caused massive focal calcification of the artery media in 20-day-old rats and less extensive focal calcification in 42-day-old rats. In contrast, no artery calcification could be detected in 10-month-old adult rats even after 4 weeks of Warfarin treatment. To directly examine the importance of growth to Warfarin-induced artery calcification in animals of the same age, 20-day-old rats were fed for 2 weeks either an ad libitum diet or a 6-g/d restricted diet that maintains weight but prevents growth. Concurrent treatment of both dietary groups with Warfarin produced massive focal calcification of the artery media in the ad libitum-fed rats but no detectable artery calcification in the restricted-diet, growth-inhibited group. Although the explanation for the association between artery calcification and growth status cannot be determined from the present study, there was a relationship between higher serum phosphate and susceptibility to artery calcification, with 30% higher levels of serum phosphate in young, ad libitum-fed rats compared with either of the groups that was resistant to Warfarin-induced artery calcification, ie, the 10-month-old rats and the restricted-diet, growth-inhibited young rats. This observation suggests that increased susceptibility to Warfarin-induced artery calcification could be related to higher serum phosphate levels. The second set of experiments examined the possible synergy between vitamin D and Warfarin in artery calcification. High doses of vitamin D are known to cause calcification of the artery media in as little as 3 to 4 days. High doses of the vitamin K antagonist Warfarin are also known to cause calcification of the artery media, but at treatment times of 2 weeks or longer yet not at 1 week. In the current study, we investigated the synergy between these 2 treatments and found that concurrent Warfarin administration dramatically increased the extent of calcification in the media of vitamin D-treated rats at 3 and 4 days. There was a close parallel between the effect of vitamin D dose on artery calcification and the effect of vitamin D dose on the elevation of serum calcium, which suggests that vitamin D may induce artery calcification through its effect on serum calcium. Because Warfarin treatment had no effect on the elevation in serum calcium produced by vitamin D, the synergy between Warfarin and vitamin D is probably best explained by the hypothesis that Warfarin inhibits the activity of matrix Gla protein as a calcification inhibitor. High levels of matrix Gla protein are found at sites of artery calcification in rats treated with vitamin D plus Warfarin, and chemical analysis showed that the protein that accumulated was indeed not gamma-carboxylated. These observations indicate that although the gamma-carboxyglutamate residues of matrix Gla protein are apparently required for its function as a calcification inhibitor, they are not required for its accumulation at calcification sites.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aging / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Anticoagulants / pharmacology*
  • Aorta / drug effects
  • Aorta / pathology
  • Aortic Diseases / chemically induced
  • Aortic Diseases / pathology
  • Arteries / drug effects*
  • Arteries / pathology
  • Calcinosis / chemically induced*
  • Calcinosis / pathology
  • Drug Combinations
  • Drug Synergism
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Time Factors
  • Vascular Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Vascular Diseases / pathology
  • Vitamin D / pharmacology*
  • Vitamin D / toxicity
  • Warfarin / pharmacology*
  • Warfarin / toxicity


  • Anticoagulants
  • Drug Combinations
  • Vitamin D
  • Warfarin