Serum cystatin C- versus creatinine-based definitions of acute kidney injury following cardiac surgery: a prospective cohort study

Am J Kidney Dis. 2012 Dec;60(6):922-9. doi: 10.1053/j.ajkd.2012.06.002. Epub 2012 Jul 17.


Background: The primary aim of this study was to compare the sensitivity and rapidity of acute kidney injury (AKI) detection by cystatin C level relative to creatinine level after cardiac surgery.

Study design: Prospective cohort study.

Settings & participants: 1,150 high-risk adult cardiac surgery patients in the TRIBE-AKI (Translational Research Investigating Biomarker Endpoints for Acute Kidney Injury) Consortium.

Predictor: Changes in serum creatinine and cystatin C levels.

Outcome: Postsurgical incidence of AKI.

Measurements: Serum creatinine and cystatin C were measured at the preoperative visit and daily on postoperative days 1-5. To allow comparisons between changes in creatinine and cystatin C levels, AKI end points were defined by the relative increases in each marker from baseline (25%, 50%, and 100%) and the incidence of AKI was compared based on each marker. Secondary aims were to compare clinical outcomes among patients defined as having AKI by cystatin C and/or creatinine levels.

Results: Overall, serum creatinine level detected more cases of AKI than cystatin C level: 35% developed a ≥25% increase in serum creatinine level, whereas only 23% had a ≥25% increase in cystatin C level (P < 0.001). Creatinine level also had higher proportions meeting the 50% (14% and 8%; P < 0.001) and 100% (4% and 2%; P = 0.005) thresholds for AKI diagnosis. Clinical outcomes generally were not statistically different for AKI cases detected by creatinine or cystatin C level. However, for each AKI threshold, patients with AKI confirmed by both markers had a significantly higher risk of the combined mortality/dialysis outcome compared with patients with AKI detected by creatinine level alone (P = 0.002).

Limitations: There were few adverse clinical outcomes, limiting our ability to detect differences in outcomes between subgroups of patients based on their definitions of AKI.

Conclusions: In this large multicenter study, we found that cystatin C level was less sensitive for AKI detection than creatinine level. However, confirmation by cystatin C level appeared to identify a subset of patients with AKI with a substantially higher risk of adverse outcomes.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Acute Kidney Injury / blood*
  • Acute Kidney Injury / diagnosis
  • Acute Kidney Injury / mortality
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Cardiac Surgical Procedures / adverse effects*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Creatinine / blood*
  • Cystatin C / blood*
  • Female
  • Hospital Mortality / trends
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Postoperative Complications / blood*
  • Postoperative Complications / diagnosis
  • Postoperative Complications / mortality
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors


  • Biomarkers
  • CST3 protein, human
  • Cystatin C
  • Creatinine