Elevated levels of erythropoietin (EPO) are associated with an increased risk of death in renal transplant recipients (RTRs), but the underlying mechanisms remain unclear. Emerging data suggest that EPO stimulates production of the phosphaturic hormone fibroblast growth factor 23 (FGF23), another strong risk factor for death in RTRs. We hypothesized that the hitherto unexplained association between EPO levels and adverse outcomes may be attributable to increased levels of FGF23. We included 579 RTRs (age 51 ± 12 years, 55% males) from the TransplantLines Insulin Resistance and Inflammation Cohort study (NCT03272854). During a follow-up of 7.0 years, 121 RTRs died, of which 62 were due to cardiovascular cause. In multivariable Cox regression analysis, EPO was independently associated with all-cause (HR, 1.66; 95% CI 1.16-2.36; P = 0.005) and cardiovascular death (HR, 1.87; 95% CI 1.14-3.06; P = 0.01). However, the associations were abrogated following adjustment for FGF23 (HR, 1.28; 95% CI 0.87-1.88; P = 0.20, and HR, 1.45; 95% CI 0.84-2.48; P = 0.18, respectively). In subsequent mediation analysis, FGF23 mediated 72% and 50% of the association between EPO and all-cause and cardiovascular death, respectively. Our results underline the strong relationship between EPO and FGF23 physiology, and provide a potential mechanism underlying the relationship between increased EPO levels and adverse outcomes in RTRs.
Keywords: death; erythropoietin; fibroblast growth factor 23; kidney transplantation.