Klotho protects kidney disease patients’ hearts

By Lisa Warshaw

Dr. Huang in his lab
Dr. Chou-Long Huang

The anti-aging hormone Klotho may play an important role in protecting the cardiovascular health of those with chronic kidney disease (CKD), according to new research from UT South-western Medical Center.

“Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in patients with CKD,” said Dr. Chou-Long Huang, Professor of Internal Medicine and senior author of a study recently published online in Nature Communications. “We are hopeful that this finding will trigger research into a Klotho-based drug therapy to treat CKD patients suffering from cardiac hypertrophy and heart failure.”

Klotho, a protein predominately produced in the kidneys, inhibits aging. When the protein is released into the bloodstream, it can function as a hormone. Dr. Huang’s research suggests that decreased Klotho production in the kidneys is a pivotal factor in the increased prevalence of cardiac hypertrophy in people with CKD. 

The study showed that mice with a Klotho deficiency had more pronounced pathological cardiac hypertrophy, while mice with increased Klotho production were protected from it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that premature death from cardiovascular disease is higher in adults who also suffer from CKD. In fact, CDC data indicate people with CKD are 16 to 40 times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease than to reach kidney failure.  

Cardiac hypertrophy, a thickening of the heart muscle, occurs in up to 90 percent of patients with CKD. Dr. Huang’s findings demonstrate how Klotho protects the heart against stress-induced cardiac hypertrophy in those with kidney disease – a discovery that may help an estimated 26 million Americans now suffering from CKD, plus millions of others at an increased risk.

Other researchers who contributed to this study included Dr. Jian Xie, Instructor of Internal Medicine and first author; Dr. Seung-Kuy Cha, a former UTSW postdoctoral fellow who runs his own lab at Wonju College of Medicine in South Korea; and Sung-Wan An, a research associate in Internal Medicine. The study was performed in collaboration with Dr. Makoto Kuro-o, Professor of Pathology, who discovered the Klotho protein in 1997.

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Dr. Huang holds the Jacob Lemann, M.D. Professorship in Calcium Transport.

Dr. Kuro-o holds The Frederic C. Bartter Professorship in Vitamin D Research and the Kern and Marnie Wildenthal President's Research Council Professorship in Medical Science, and is a Southwestern Medical Foundation Scholar in Biomedical Research.

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