Mechanisms of vascular calcification in renal disease

Clin Nephrol. 2005 Feb;63(2):146-57. doi: 10.5414/cnp63146.


Vascular calcification is commonplace in patients with end-stage renal disease where it develops rapidly and predicts a variety of adverse outcomes. The processes responsible for vascular calcification have been the focus of much research, aided in recent decades by molecular genetic techniques and in vitro models. Converging evidence now suggests that vascular calcification is an active, regulated process, with abundant similarities to the process of skeletal mineralization. Using an in vitro model of calcifying vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs), we have shown that a mineral imbalance induces VSMC apoptosis, and that VSMC apoptotic bodies and vesicles can nucleate basic calcium phosphate in the form of hydroxyapatite, the same mineral found in bone. Gene expression studies suggest that the normal vessel wall expresses proteins such as matrix Gla protein that inhibit calcification. In addition, circulating proteins such as fetuin-A are produced at remote sites and act to inhibit soft tissue calcification systemically. However, down-regulation or perturbation of these proteins may lead to a phenotypic transformation of VSMCs to osteo/chondrocytic-like cells while the calcified environment may stimulate macrophages to adopt osteoclastic properties. Both clinical and basic research findings indicate an inverse relationship between bone mineralization and vascular calcification. The mechanisms linking these two processes are a topic for further investigation, with current theories proposing a role for lipids, common regulatory molecules, and calcium and bone turnover. We have synthesized these findings into a theoretical model offering a putative pathway for the development of severe vascular calcification in end-stage renal disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Blood Proteins / physiology
  • Calcification, Physiologic / physiology
  • Calcinosis / etiology*
  • Calcinosis / metabolism
  • Calcinosis / physiopathology*
  • Calcium-Binding Proteins / genetics
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins / genetics
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Myocytes, Smooth Muscle / physiology
  • Polymorphism, Genetic
  • Uremia / complications*
  • Uremia / metabolism
  • Uremia / physiopathology
  • Vascular Diseases / etiology*
  • Vascular Diseases / metabolism
  • Vascular Diseases / physiopathology*
  • alpha-2-HS-Glycoprotein


  • AHSG protein, human
  • Ahsg protein, mouse
  • Blood Proteins
  • Calcium-Binding Proteins
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins
  • alpha-2-HS-Glycoprotein
  • matrix Gla protein