Purpose of review: Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in patients with chronic kidney disease. A growing body of data points to nontraditional risk factors, including disturbances in mineral metabolism, as important determinants of the extremely high cardiovascular morbidity and mortality rates in these patients. Disturbances in mineral metabolism, especially elevated calcium and phosphate levels, have been linked to vascular and valvular calcification, both of which are associated with poor prognosis in chronic kidney disease patients. This review highlights important recent findings regarding the etiology of vascular calcification, with special emphasis on pathways that may be particularly relevant in chronic kidney disease patients.
Recent findings: New studies indicate that not only vascular intimal calcification (associated with atherosclerosis) but also vascular medial calcification are correlated with decreased survival in chronic kidney disease patients. With the relatively recent recognition of vascular calcification as an actively regulated process, a growing list of inducers (calcium, phosphate, inflammatory cytokines) and inhibitors (matrix Gla protein, fetuin, pyrophosphate, osteopontin) have been discovered. Interesting recent evidence suggests that they may contribute to the prevalence of this pathology in chronic kidney disease patients.
Summary: Vascular calcification is associated with decreased survival in chronic kidney disease patients. Understanding the causes and regulatory factors controlling vascular calcification will help refine therapeutic modalities currently in use, as well as develop novel therapeutics to abate and potentially reverse this deleterious process.