Background: Bone matrix proteins are expressed in calcified arteries from dialysis patients, suggesting that vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) may transform to osteoblast-like cells. One of the key transcriptional regulators of osteoblast differentiation is Cbfa1. Thus, we hypothesized that this may be a key factor in arterial calcification.
Methods: To test this hypothesis, we examined sections of the inferior epigastric artery from uremic patients for the presence of Cbfa1 and type I collagen and osteopontin by in situ hybridization and immunostaining. We also examined the effect of pooled uremic sera from dialysis patients on the expression of Cbfa1 by reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) in bovine VSMCs in vitro.
Results: Cbfa1 and osteopontin were expressed in both the media and the intima in vessels that were calcified, but there was only minimal staining in non-calcified vessels. In vitro studies demonstrated that pooled uremic serum, compared to pooled control human serum induced the expression of Cbfa1 by RT-PCR in bovine VSMCs in a time-dependent, nonphosphorus-mediated mechanism.
Conclusion: These results support that Cbfa1 is a key regulatory factor in the vascular calcification observed in dialysis patients and is up-regulated in response to many uremic toxins.