Dependence of upper limit of metastability on supersaturation in nephrolithiasis

Kidney Int. 1997 Dec;52(6):1602-8. doi: 10.1038/ki.1997.491.


Formation of renal stones requires supersaturation (SS) high enough to induce crystallization; such a SS is referred to as the upper limit of metastability (ULM). The ULM for calcium oxalate (CaOx) or calcium phosphate can be measured by adding oxalate or calcium to urine, respectively, and noting the point at which overt crystallization occurs as evidenced by clouding. In principle, the urine should be more prone to form stone crystals as its SS approaches the ULM, and the SS ULM distance has been used as an index of stone forming potential. In addition, one would expect the ULM and initial SS to be unrelated, as the starting urine SS has no apparent link to the amount of calcium or oxalate that urine can dissolve without leading to crystal formation. However, in rats, we have found a surprising correlation between ULM and SS, such that ULM appears to rise with initial SS, for CaOx, and, to a lesser extent, for brushite (Br), a typical calcium phosphate initial phase. In this study, we measured CaOx and Br ULM, and SS, in urine of 50 patients and 11 normal people, to determine if ULM and SS were correlated, as in rats, and to explore the relationship between SS and ULM. We found the same dependence of ULM on SS as in rats, for both CaOx and Br, and found no differences between patients and normal people with respect to this dependency. However, for Br, patients showed a lower ULM than normals, but the same initial SS, meaning that patients were closer to their crystal formation threshold than normals. Treatments for stones had no apparent effect on the SS-ULM dependency. We conclude that in humans, as in rats, ULM is related to initial SS, and that this relationship is the same in patients as in normals for CaOx, but shifted in a stone forming direction for Br among patients. The ULM-SS interaction is unaffected by contemporary conventional stone treatments, and is more marked for CaOx than Br. The mechanisms of the dependence are unknown. The smaller difference between ULM and initial SS for Br in patients than normal supports prior evidence suggesting a defect in stone patients that could lead to calcium phosphate crystallization, subsequent nucleation of CaOx, and stone disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Calcium / pharmacology
  • Calcium Oxalate / chemistry
  • Calcium Oxalate / urine
  • Calcium Phosphates / chemistry
  • Calcium Phosphates / urine
  • Crystallization
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Kidney Calculi / chemistry*
  • Kidney Calculi / metabolism*
  • Male
  • Oxalates / pharmacology
  • Phosphorus / urine
  • Solubility
  • Titrimetry


  • Calcium Phosphates
  • Oxalates
  • Calcium Oxalate
  • Phosphorus
  • calcium phosphate, dibasic, dihydrate
  • Calcium