Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial of Rifaximin Therapy for Lowering Gut-Derived Cardiovascular Toxins and Inflammation in CKD

Kidney360. 2020 Nov;1(11):1206-1216. doi: 10.34067/kid.0003942020. Epub 2020 Nov 25.


Background: Recent evidence suggests the systemic accumulation of by-products of gut microbes contributes to cardiovascular morbidity in patients with CKD. Limiting the generation of toxic bacterial by-products by manipulating the intestinal microbiota may be a novel strategy for reducing cardiovascular disease in CKD. Rifaximin is a minimally absorbed, oral antibiotic that targets intestinal pathogens and is commonly used as chronic therapy for the prevention of encephalopathy in patients with cirrhosis.

Methods: We conducted a randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial to determine the effect of a 10-day course of oral rifaximin 550 mg BID versus placebo on circulating concentrations of gut-derived cardiovascular toxins and proinflammatory cytokines in patients with stage 3-5 CKD (n=38). The primary clinical outcome was change in serum trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) concentrations from baseline to study end. Secondary outcomes included change in serum concentrations of p-cresol sulfate, indoxyl sulfate, kynurenic acid, deoxycholic acid, and inflammatory cytokines (C-reactive protein, IL-6, IL-1β), and change in composition and diversity of fecal microbiota.

Results: A total of 19 patients were randomized to each of the rifaximin and placebo arms, with n=17 and n=14 completing both study visits in these respective groups. We observed no difference in serum TMAO change (post-therapy minus baseline TMAO) between the rifaximin and placebo groups (mean TMAO change -3.9±15.4 for rifaximin versus 0.5±9.5 for placebo, P=0.49). Similarly, we found no significant change in serum concentrations for p-cresol sulfate, indoxyl sulfate, kynurenic acid, deoxycholic acid, and inflammatory cytokines. We did observe differences in colonic bacterial communities, with the rifaximin group exhibiting significant decreases in bacterial richness (Chao1, P=0.02) and diversity (Shannon H, P=0.05), along with altered abundance of several bacterial genera.

Conclusions: Short-term rifaximin treatment failed to reduce gut-derived cardiovascular toxins and inflammatory cytokines in patients with CKD.

Clinical trial registry name and registration number: Rifaximin Therapy in Chronic Kidney Disease, NCT02342639.

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT02342639