Magnesium Counteracts Vascular Calcification: Passive Interference or Active Modulation?

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Over the last decade, an increasing number of studies report a close relationship between serum magnesium concentration and cardiovascular disease risk in the general population. In end-stage renal disease, an association was found between serum magnesium and survival. Hypomagnesemia was identified as a strong predictor for cardiovascular disease in these patients. A substantial body of in vitro and in vivo studies has identified a protective role for magnesium in vascular calcification. However, the precise mechanisms and its contribution to cardiovascular protection remain unclear. There are currently 2 leading hypotheses: first, magnesium may bind phosphate and delay calcium phosphate crystal growth in the circulation, thereby passively interfering with calcium phosphate deposition in the vessel wall. Second, magnesium may regulate vascular smooth muscle cell transdifferentiation toward an osteogenic phenotype by active cellular modulation of factors associated with calcification. Here, the data supporting these major hypotheses are reviewed. The literature supports both a passive inorganic phosphate–buffering role reducing hydroxyapatite formation and an active cell-mediated role, directly targeting vascular smooth muscle transdifferentiation. However, current evidence relies on basic experimental designs that are often insufficient to delineate the underlying mechanisms. The field requires more advanced experimental design, including determination of intracellular magnesium concentrations and the identification of the molecular players that regulate magnesium concentrations in vascular smooth muscle cells.

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