Fibroblast growth factor-23: what we know, what we don't know, and what we need to know

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Abstract

Traditional risk factors of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality such as hypertension, hypercholesterolemia and obesity are paradoxically associated with better outcomes in dialysis patients, and the few trials of interventions targeting modifiable traditional risk factors have yielded disappointing results in this patient population. Non-traditional risk factors such as inflammation, anemia and abnormalities in bone and mineral metabolism have been proposed as potential explanations for the excess mortality seen in patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) and end-stage renal disease (ESRD), but without clear understanding of what the most important pathophysiologic mechanisms of these risk factors are, which ones might be ideal treatment targets and which therapeutic interventions may be effective and safe in targeting them. Among the novel risk factors, fibroblast growth factor-23 (FGF23) has recently emerged as one of the most powerful predictors of adverse outcomes in patients with CKD and ESRD. FGF23 is a hormone produced by osteoblasts/osteocytes in bone that acts on the kidney to regulate phosphate and vitamin D metabolism through activation of FGF receptor/α-Klotho co-receptor complexes. It is possible that elevated FGF23 may exert its negative impact through distinct mechanisms of action independent from its role as a regulator of phosphorus homeostasis. Elevated circulating FGF23 concentrations have been associated with left ventricular hypertrophy (LVH), and it has been suggested that FGF23 exerts a direct effect on the myocardium. While it is possible that ‘off target’ effects of FGF23 present in very high concentrations could induce LVH, this possibility is controversial, since α-klotho is not expressed in the myocardium. Another possibility is that FGF23's effect on the heart is mediated indirectly, via ‘on target’ activation of other humoral pathways. We will review the physiology and pathophysiology of FGF23, the outcomes associated with elevated FGF23 levels, and describe putative mechanisms of action responsible for its negative effects and potential therapeutic strategies to treat these.

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