Background: Vascular calcification occurs in the majority of patients with chronic kidney disease, but a subset of patients does not develop calcification despite exposure to a similar uraemic environment. Physiological inhibitors of calcification, fetuin-A, osteoprotegerin (OPG) and undercarboxylated-matrix Gla protein (uc-MGP) may play a role in preventing the development and progression of ectopic calcification, but there are scarce and conflicting data from clinical studies.
Methods: We measured fetuin-A, OPG and uc-MGP in 61 children on dialysis and studied their associations with clinical, biochemical and vascular measures.
Results: Fetuin-A and OPG were higher and uc-MGP lower in dialysis patients than controls. In controls, fetuin-A and OPG increased with age. Fetuin-A showed an inverse correlation with dialysis vintage (P = 0.0013), time-averaged serum phosphate (P = 0.03) and hs-CRP (P = 0.001). Aortic pulse wave velocity (PWV) and augmentation index showed a negative correlation with fetuin-A while a positive correlation was seen with PWV and OPG. Patients with calcification had lower fetuin-A and higher OPG than those without calcification. On multiple linear regression analysis Fetuin-A independently predicted aortic PWV (P = 0.004, beta = -0.45, model R(2) = 48%) and fetuin-A and OPG predicted cardiac calcification (P = 0.02, beta = -0.29 and P = 0.014, ss = 0.33, respectively, model R(2) = 32%).
Conclusions: This is the first study to define normal levels of the calcification inhibitors in children and show that fetuin-A and OPG are associated with increased vascular stiffness and calcification in children on dialysis. Higher levels of fetuin-A in children suggest a possible protective upregulation of fetuin-A in the early stages of exposure to the pro-calcific and pro-inflammatory uraemic environment.