BACKGROUND: Vascular calcification is common among end-stage renal disease (ESRD) patients and a central characteristic of the atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease observed in dialysis patients. Fetuin-A, a circulating calcium-regulatory glycoprotein that inhibits vascular calcification, is associated with inflammation and outcome in dialysis patients. In the present study, we evaluated the association between fetuin-A, clinical phenotype, and outcome, as well as the impact of fetuin gene (AHSG) polymorphisms on the protein product and outcome. METHODS: In a cohort of 258 (161 males) ESRD patients starting renal replacement therapy [glomerular filtration rate (GFR) 6.8 +/- 0.2 mL/min] aged 52 +/- 1 years the following parameters were studied: presence of malnutrition (subjective global assessment), comorbidity [diabetes mellitus and clinical manifest cardiovascular disease (CVD)], carotid plaques (N= 101), hs-CRP, fetuin-A, S-albumin, interleukin (IL)-6, and single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) in the AHSG gene (N= 215) at amino acid positions Thr248Met (C-->T), Thr256Ser (C-->G), Asp276Asn (G-->A), and Arg317Cys (C-->T). RESULTS: Both all-cause (P < 0.001) and cardiovascular (P < 0.001) mortality were associated with low fetuin-A levels independently of age, smoking, diabetes, S-albumin, CVD, and inflammation (CRP > or =10 mg/L). Inflamed (0.199 vs. 0.247 g/L; P < 0.01) and malnourished (0.207 vs. 0.262 g/L; P < 0.05) patients had significantly lower median fetuin-A than noninflamed and well-nourished ESRD patients, respectively. In a logistic regression model (N= 101), fetuin-A was significantly (P < 0.05) associated with the presence of carotid plaques independently of age, CVD, diabetes, S-albumin, gender, and inflammation. Significant correlations were observed between fetuin-A and both S-albumin (Rho = 0.30; P < 0.0001) and IL-6 (Rho =-0.21; P < 0.01). Patients with the AHSG 256Ser allele had lower serum fetuin-A levels, and higher all-cause and cardiovascular mortality rate if they were inflamed. CONCLUSION: The present study shows that a low fetuin-A level is associated with malnutrition, inflammation, and atherosclerosis (carotid plaques), as well as with increased cardiovascular and all-cause mortality. Because the present study demonstrates an effect of variations in the AHSG gene on both circulating fetuin-A levels and outcome, this indicates that ESRD patients with the AHSG 256Ser allele are at risk of accelerated vascular calcification.
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