Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Calcification


Vascular calcification, occurring during late-stage vascular and valvular disease, is highly associated with chronic kidney disease-mineral and bone disorders (CKD-MBD), representing a major risk factor for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. The hallmark of vascular calcification, which involves both media and intima, is represented by the activation of cells committed to an osteogenic programme. Several studies have analysed the role of circulating calcifying cells (CCCs) in vascular calcification. CCCs are bone marrow (BM)-derived cells with an osteogenic phenotype, participating in intima calcification processes and defined by osteocalcin and bone alkaline phosphatase expression. The identification of CCCs in diabetes and atherosclerosis is the most recent, intriguing and yet uncharted chapter in the scenario of the bone-vascular axis. Whether osteogenic shift occurs in the BM, the bloodstream or both, is not known, and also the factors promoting CCC formation have not been identified. However, it is possible to recognize a common pathogenic commitment of inflammation in atherosclerosis and diabetes, in which metabolic control may also have a role. Currently available studies in patients without CKD did not find an association of CCCs with markers of bone metabolism. Preliminary data on CKD patients indicate an implication of mineral bone disease in vascular calcification, as a consequence of functional and anatomic integrity interruption of BM niches. Given the pivotal role that parathyroid hormone and osteoblasts play in regulating expansion, mobilization and homing of haematopoietic stem/progenitors cells, CKD-MBD could promote CCC formation.

Concepts: Immune system, Bone, Cancer, Metabolism, Bone marrow, Alkaline phosphatase, Organ, Calcification


Vascular mineralization has recently emerged as a risk factor for cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Previously regarded as a passive end-stage process, vascular mineralization is currently recognized as an actively regulated process with cellular and humoral contributions. The discovery that the vitamin K-dependent matrix Gla-protein (MGP) is a strong inhibitor of vascular calcification has propelled our mechanistic understanding of this process and opened novel avenues for diagnosis and treatment. This review focuses on molecular mechanisms of vascular mineralization involving MGP and discusses the potential for treatments and biomarkers to monitor patients at risk for vascular mineralization.

Concepts: Mortality rate, English-language films, Investment, American films, Calcification, Carboxylation


Aims: To demonstrate the feasibility of the Leaflex™ Catheter System, a novel percutaneous device for fracturing valve calcification using mechanical impact in order to regain leaflet mobility. Methods and results: Radiographic analysis of calcium patterns in 90 ex vivo human aortic valve leaflets demonstrated that 82% of leaflets had a typical “bridge” or “half-bridge” pattern, which formed the basis for the catheter design. The therapeutic effect was quantified in 13 leaflets showing a reduction of 49±16% in leaflet resistance to folding after treatment. A pulsatile flow simulator was then used with 11 ex vivo valves demonstrating an increase in aortic valve area of 35±12%. Using gross pathology and histology on fresh calcified leaflets, we then verified that mechanical impacts do not entail excessive risk of embolisation. In vivo safety and usability were then confirmed in the ovine model. Conclusions: We demonstrated preclinically that it is feasible to improve valve function using the Leaflex™ technology. Once demonstrated clinically, such an approach may have an important role as preparation for or bridging to TAVI, as destination treatment for patients where TAVI is clinically or economically questionable and, in the future, maybe even as a means to slow disease progression in asymptomatic patients.

Concepts: In vivo, Demonstration, Aortic valve, Valvular heart disease, Calcification, Aortic valve stenosis, Leaflet, Gross examination


Vascular calcification is an advanced feature of atherosclerosis for which no effective therapy is available. To investigate the modulation or reversal of calcification, we identified calcifying progenitor cells and investigated their calcifying/decalcifying potentials. Cells from the aortas of mice were sorted into four groups using Sca-1 and PDGFRα markers. Sca-1(+) (Sca-1(+)/PDGFRα(+) and Sca-1(+)/PDGFRα(-)) progenitor cells exhibited greater osteoblastic differentiation potentials than Sca-1(-) (Sca-1(-)/PDGFRα(+) and Sca-1(-)/PDGFRα(-)) progenitor cells. Among Sca-1(+) progenitor populations, Sca-1(+)/PDGFRα(-) cells possessed bidirectional differentiation potentials towards both osteoblastic and osteoclastic lineages, whereas Sca-1(+)/PDGFRα(+) cells differentiated into an osteoblastic lineage unidirectionally. When treated with a peroxisome proliferator activated receptor γ (PPARγ) agonist, Sca-1(+)/PDGFRα(-) cells preferentially differentiated into osteoclast-like cells. Sca-1(+) progenitor cells in the artery originated from the bone marrow (BM) and could be clonally expanded. Vessel-resident BM-derived Sca-1(+) calcifying progenitor cells displayed nonhematopoietic, mesenchymal characteristics. To evaluate the modulation of in vivo calcification, we established models of ectopic and atherosclerotic calcification. Computed tomography indicated that Sca-1(+) progenitor cells increased the volume and calcium scores of ectopic calcification. However, Sca-1(+)/PDGFRα(-) cells treated with a PPARγ agonist decreased bone formation 2-fold compared with untreated cells. Systemic infusion of Sca-1(+)/PDGFRα(-) cells into Apoe(-/-) mice increased the severity of calcified atherosclerotic plaques. However, Sca-1(+)/PDGFRα(-) cells in which PPARγ was activated displayed markedly decreased plaque severity. Immunofluorescent staining indicated that Sca-1(+)/PDGFRα(-) cells mainly expressed osteocalcin; however, activation of PPARγ triggered receptor activator for nuclear factor-κB (RANK) expression, indicating their bidirectional fate in vivo. These findings suggest that a subtype of BM-derived and vessel-resident progenitor cells offer a therapeutic target for the prevention of vascular calcification and that PPARγ activation may be an option to reverse calcification.

Concepts: Gene expression, Atherosclerosis, Stem cell, Bone marrow, Atheroma, Cellular differentiation, Artery, Calcification


Clinical evidence links arterial calcification and cardiovascular risk. Finite-element modelling of the stress distribution within atherosclerotic plaques has suggested that subcellular microcalcifications in the fibrous cap may promote material failure of the plaque, but that large calcifications can stabilize it. Yet the physicochemical mechanisms underlying such mineral formation and growth in atheromata remain unknown. Here, by using three-dimensional collagen hydrogels that mimic structural features of the atherosclerotic fibrous cap, and high-resolution microscopic and spectroscopic analyses of both the hydrogels and of calcified human plaques, we demonstrate that calcific mineral formation and maturation results from a series of events involving the aggregation of calcifying extracellular vesicles, and the formation of microcalcifications and ultimately large calcification areas. We also show that calcification morphology and the plaque’s collagen content-two determinants of atherosclerotic plaque stability-are interlinked.

Concepts: Cholesterol, Myocardial infarction, Atherosclerosis, Cardiovascular disease, Low-density lipoprotein, Atheroma, Artery, Calcification


Vascular calcification is a complex biological process that is a hallmark of atherosclerosis. While macrocalcification confers plaque stability, microcalcification is a key feature of high-risk atheroma and is associated with increased morbidity and mortality. Positron emission tomography and X-ray computed tomography (PET/CT) imaging of atherosclerosis using (18)F-sodium fluoride ((18)F-NaF) has the potential to identify pathologically high-risk nascent microcalcification. However, the precise molecular mechanism of (18)F-NaF vascular uptake is still unknown. Here we use electron microscopy, autoradiography, histology and preclinical and clinical PET/CT to analyse (18)F-NaF binding. We show that (18)F-NaF adsorbs to calcified deposits within plaque with high affinity and is selective and specific. (18)F-NaF PET/CT imaging can distinguish between areas of macro- and microcalcification. This is the only currently available clinical imaging platform that can non-invasively detect microcalcification in active unstable atherosclerosis. The use of (18)F-NaF may foster new approaches to developing treatments for vascular calcification.

Concepts: Electron, Biology, Medical imaging, Positron emission tomography, Positron, Radiography, Radiology, Calcification


Seaweeds are key species of the Baltic Sea benthic ecosystems. They are the substratum of numerous fouling epibionts like bryozoans and tubeworms. Several of these epibionts bear calcified structures and could be impacted by the high pCO2 events of the late summer upwellings in the Baltic nearshores. Those events are expected to increase in strength and duration with global change and ocean acidification. If calcifying epibionts are impacted by transient acidification as driven by upwelling events, their increasing prevalence could cause a shift of the fouling communities toward fleshy species. The aim of the present study was to test the sensitivity of selected seaweed macrofoulers to transient elevation of pCO2 in their natural microenvironment, i.e. the boundary layer covering the thallus surface of brown seaweeds. Fragments of the macroalga Fucus serratus bearing an epibiotic community composed of the calcifiers Spirorbis spirorbis (Annelida) and Electra pilosa (Bryozoa) and the non-calcifier Alcyonidium hirsutum (Bryozoa) were maintained for 30 days under three pCO2 conditions: natural 460±59 µatm, present-day upwelling1193±166 µatm and future upwelling 3150±446 µatm. Only the highest pCO2 caused a significant reduction of growth rates and settlement of S. spirorbis individuals. Additionally, S. spirorbis settled juveniles exhibited enhanced calcification of 40% during daylight hours compared to dark hours, possibly reflecting a day-night alternation of an acidification-modulating effect by algal photosynthesis as opposed to an acidification-enhancing effect of algal respiration. E. pilosa colonies showed significantly increased growth rates at intermediate pCO2 (1193 µatm) but no response to higher pCO2. No effect of acidification on A. hirsutum colonies growth rates was observed. The results suggest a remarkable resistance of the algal macro-epibionts to levels of acidification occurring at present day upwellings in the Baltic. Only extreme future upwelling conditions impacted the tubeworm S. spirorbis, but not the bryozoans.

Concepts: Algae, Photosynthesis, Atlantic Ocean, Baltic Sea, Calcification, Fucus, Seaweed


Not all individuals with type 2 diabetes and high coronary artery calcified plaque (CAC) experience the same risk for adverse outcomes. This study examined a subset of high-risk individuals based on CAC >1,000 mg (using a total mass score) and evaluated whether differences in a range of modifiable cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors provided further insights into risk for mortality.RESEARCH DESIGN AND METHODS: We assessed contributors to all-cause mortality among 371 European American individuals with type 2 diabetes and CAC >1,000 from the Diabetes Heart Study (DHS) after 8.2 ± 3.0 years (mean ± SD) of follow-up. Differences in known CVD risk factors, including modifiable CVD risk factors, were compared between living (n = 218) and deceased (n = 153) participants. Cox proportional hazards regression models were used to quantify risk for all-cause mortality.RESULTS: Deceased participants had a longer duration of type 2 diabetes (P = 0.02) and reduced use of cholesterol-lowering medications (P = 0.004). Adjusted analyses revealed that vascular calcified plaque scores were associated with increased risk for mortality (hazard ratio 1.31-1.63; 3.89 × 10(-5) < P < 0.03). Higher HbA1c, lipids, and C-reactive protein and reduced kidney function also were associated with a 1.1- to 1.5-fold increased risk for mortality (3.45 × 10(-6) < P < 0.03) after adjusting for confounding factors.CONCLUSIONS: Even in this high-risk group, vascular calcification and known CVD risk factors provide useful information for ongoing assessment. The use of cholesterol-lowering medication seemed to be protective for mortality.

Concepts: Proportional hazards models, Atherosclerosis, Diabetes mellitus type 2, Diabetes mellitus, Heart, Cardiovascular disease, Artery, Calcification


Coronary artery calcification (CAC) is a risk factor for adverse outcomes in the general population and in patients with coronary artery disease. The pathogenesis of CAC and bone formation share common pathways, and risk factors have been identified that contribute to the initiation and progression of CAC. Efforts to control CAC with medical therapy have not been successful. Event-free survival is also reduced in patients with coronary calcification after both percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) and bypass graft surgery. Although drug-eluting stents and devices for plaque modification have modestly improved outcomes in calcified vessels, adverse event rates are still high. Innovative pharmacologic and device-based approaches are needed to improve the poor prognosis of patients with CAC.

Concepts: Medicine, Coronary artery disease, Cardiology, Heart, Percutaneous coronary intervention, Artery, Coronary artery bypass surgery, Calcification


Public water fluoridation is a common policy for improving dental health. Fluoride replaces the hydroxyls of hydroxyapatite, thereby improving the strength of tooth enamel, but this process can also occur in other active calcifications. This paper studies the effects of water fluoridation during the course of vascular calcification in renal disease. The effect of fluoride was studied in vitro and in vivo. Rat aortic smooth muscle cells were calcified with 2mM Pi for 5 days. Fluoride concentrations of 5-10μM-similar to those found in people who drink fluoridated water-partially prevented calcification, death, and osteogene expression in vitro. The anticalcifying mechanism was independent of cell activity, matrix Gla protein, and fetuin A expressions, and it exhibited an IC50 of 8.7μM fluoride. In vivo, however, fluoridation of drinking water at 1.5mg/L (concentration recommended by the WHO) and 15mg/L dramatically increased the incipient aortic calcification observed in rats with experimental chronic kidney disease (CKD, 5/6-nephrectomy), fed a Pi-rich fodder (1.2% Pi). Fluoride further declined the remaining renal function of the CKD animals, an effect that most likely overwhelmed the positive effect of fluoride on calcification in vitro. Ultrastructural analysis revealed that fluoride did not modify the Ca/P atomic ratio, but it was incorporated into the lattice of in vivo deposits. Fluoride also converted the crystallization pattern from plate to rode-like structures. In conclusion, while fluoride prevents calcification in vitro, the WHO’s recommended concentrations in drinking water become nephrotoxic to CKD rats, thereby aggravating renal disease and making media vascular calcification significant.

Concepts: Renal failure, Chronic kidney disease, Kidney, Nephrology, Tooth enamel, Calcification, Dental fluorosis, Water fluoridation