Vascular calcification in chronic kidney disease

J Bone Miner Metab. 2006;24(2):176-81. doi: 10.1007/s00774-005-0668-6.


Vascular calcification is often encountered in advanced atherosclerotic lesions and is a common consequence of aging. Calcification of the coronary arteries has been positively correlated with coronary atherosclerotic plaque burden, increased risk of myocardial infarction, and plaque instability. Chronic kidney disease (CKD) patients have two to five times more coronary artery calcification than healthy age-matched individuals. Vascular calcification is a strong prognostic marker of cardiovascular disease mortality in CKD patients. Vascular calcification has long been considered to be a passive, degenerative, and end-stage process of atherosclerosis and inflammation. However, recent evidence indicates that bone matrix proteins such as osteopontin, matrix Gla protein (MGP), and osteocalcin are expressed in calcified atherosclerotic lesions, and that calcium-regulating hormones such as vitamin D3 and parathyroid hormone-related protein regulate vascular calcification in in vitro vascular calcification models based on cultured aortic smooth muscle cells. These findings suggest that vascular calcification is an actively regulated process similar to osteogenesis, and that bone-associated proteins may be involved in the development of vascular calcification. The pathogenesis of vascular calcification in CKD is not well understood and is almost multifactorial. In CKD patients, several studies have found associations of both traditional risk factors, such as hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and diabetes, and uremic-specific risk factors with vascular calcification. Most patients with progressive CKD develop hyperphosphatemia. An elevated phosphate level is an important risk factor for the development of calcification and cardiovascular mortality in CKD patients. Thus, it is hypothesized that an important regulator of vascular calcification is the level of inorganic phosphate. In order to test this hypothesis, we characterized the response of human smooth muscle cell (HSMC) cultures to inorganic phosphate levels. Our findings indicate that inorganic phosphate directly regulates HSMC calcification through a sodium-dependent phosphate transporter mechanism. After treatment with elevated phosphate, there is a loss of smooth muscle lineage markers, such as alpha-actin and SM-22alpha, and a simultaneous gain of osteogenic markers such as cbfa-1 and osteocalcin. Elevated phosphate may directly stimulate HSMC to undergo phenotypic changes that predispose to calcification, and offer a novel explanation of the phenomenon of vascular calcification under hyperphosphatemic conditions. Furthermore, putative calcification inhibitory molecules have been identified using mouse mutational analyses, including MGP, beta-glucosidase, fetuin-A, and osteoprotegerin. Mutant mice deficient in these molecules present with enhanced cardiovascular calcification, demonstrating that specific molecules are normally important in suppressing vascular calcification. These findings suggest that the balance of inducers, such as phosphate, and inhibitors, such as MGP, fetuin-A, and others, are likely to control whether or not calcification occurs under pathological conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alkaline Phosphatase / metabolism
  • Bone and Bones / metabolism*
  • Calcification, Physiologic
  • Calcium / metabolism
  • Calcium-Binding Proteins / metabolism
  • Cell Differentiation
  • Disease Progression
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins / metabolism
  • Glycoproteins / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / pathology*
  • Models, Biological
  • Osteoblasts / metabolism
  • Osteoprotegerin
  • Phosphates / metabolism
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear / metabolism
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor / metabolism
  • Risk Factors
  • Vascular Diseases / pathology


  • Calcium-Binding Proteins
  • Extracellular Matrix Proteins
  • Glycoproteins
  • Osteoprotegerin
  • Phosphates
  • Receptors, Cytoplasmic and Nuclear
  • Receptors, Tumor Necrosis Factor
  • TNFRSF11B protein, human
  • Tnfrsf11b protein, mouse
  • matrix Gla protein
  • Alkaline Phosphatase
  • Calcium