In this study we measured the effect of bed rest on plasma concentrations of cystatin C, which is an emerging marker of cardiovascular disease. We also measured traditional markers of inflammation and kidney function. Eight days after a bed rest period of 60 days was completed cystatin C levels increased and GFR decreased and for GFR this was independent of calculation method.
Bed rest is probably the single most applied therapy for hospitalized patients no matter the underlying disease. It is therefore of great importance to understand the pathophysiological changes during immobilization as it may influence treatment. The growing problem of "sedentary lifestyle" could also be considered as a global immobilisation experiment. Future trips to Mars require further information of the effect of immobilization to the human body.
Patients with elevated levels of cystatin C are at higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases [8, 9]. Low glomerular filtration rate is a risk factor for cardiovascular mortality, independent of other cardiovascular risk factors . Peralta el al discussed the probability that cystatin C might be a better parameter for identifying patients with chronic kidney disease at risk of developing cardiovascular complications than a creatinine-based equation . Other researchers found that elderly people with the highest quintile of cystatin C (1.29 mg/i) have a significantly elevated risk of death from cardiovascular causes, myocardial infarction, and stroke after multivariate adjustment . Cystatin C is linearly associated with cardiovascular mortality, but creatinine on the other hand predicts worse outcome only in patients with severe kidney dysfunction .
It has been described that high cystatin C levels correlate to an extensively increased risk of cardiovascular events in persons who do not meet the criterion of eGRF ≤ 60 mL/min/1.73 m2, a definition of chronic kidney disease . High cystatin C levels have been found to be associated with elevated levels of CRP and [5, 17] and other inflammatory markers such as IL-6, tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α), and two soluble TNF-α receptors, even with creatinine-based eGFR ≥ 60 mL/min/1.73 m2 . How non-renal factors influence cystatin C concentrations need further research.
In our study CRP was elevated after bed rest in the non-exercise group. Our finding might reflect that bed rest increases inflammatory activity, which in turn advances the atherosclerotic process leading to enhanced risk of CVD as well as elevated cystatin C levels by atherosclerosis in the kidneys and thereby a decreased glomerular filtration rate. In a recent study of overweight/obese postmenopausal women practising physical activity, it was shown that women with the highest tertile of physical activity energy expenditure had lower concentrations of hsCRP after adjustment for fat mass . This can give an explanation to the difference in CRP between the control group and the exercise group in our study.
Cystatin C also has a different role in relation to inflammation/atherosclerosis. Inflammatory cytokines associated with atherosclerosis stimulate the production of lysosomal cathepsins and increase the plasma concentration of cystatin C. Cystatin C is a cathepsin inhibitor and might therefore play a roll in counterbalancing a potentially destructive greater elastolytic activity . Mice deficient in cystatin C have increased elastic lamina degradation and greater atherosclerotic plaque formation. Studies have shown that both cathepsins and their inhibitor cystatin C could act either pro- or antiatherogenic in the different stages of atherosclerosis . This role of cystatin C probably plays a lesser part in our study.
A limitation to our study is that the blood samples were taken in 2005 and analysed five years later. This might have influenced our results. A recent study however, has shown that when using the Gentian method the cystatin C levels were stable when comparing blood samples over four years of time .
All samples were analyzed in a single batch and in a random mode with the same reagent batch and the same calibration on a single instrument. The instrument has a high assay capacity so the time interval between first and last assay were less than 30 min. This in combination with the low assay CVs makes it unlikely that the differences in this study are due to variation in the assay or sample evaporation during the assay. Our findings were done in women only and the groups were relatively small. Knight et al. found in a cross-sectional study that male gender was independently associated with higher serum cystatin C after adjusting for creatinine clearance. Older age, greater height and weight have a similar effect. Previously, serum cystatin C levels have been found to correlate somewhat with weight . In our study there was a statistically significant weight reduction in both groups after 44 days of bed rest and in the recovery period compared to baseline. According to Knight et al. because of weight loss a reduction in cystatin C levels could have been expected. In vertebrates both metabolic rate and glomerular filtration rate are positively correlated to body size . However, we found the opposite - an increase in cystatin C levels. This could indicate that cystatin C is a marker of other physiological processes than kidney function. Knight et al. showed that high CRP levels are independently associated with increased cystatin C levels after adjustment for creatinine clearance. Cystatin C can also be a biomarker for inflammation [24, 25]. In another substudy of WISE it was shown that bed rest causes both mechanistic and functional impairment of endothelial function . These results could serve as a possible explanation for the cystatin C findings in our study - because early changes in endothelial function are part of the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis.
The decrease in GFR calculated with the Cockcroft-Gault formula can be explained by a combination of weight reduction and stable creatinine values. Weight reduction in the control group was most likely due to muscle atrophy and stable fat mass. Unexpectedly, Bergouignan et al. showed that the desire to eat was reduced in the exercise group - leading to a negative energy balance and a decrease in fat mass . It is a limitation to our study that a golden standard measurement, as e.g. iohexol clearance, was not used. We did, however, use two different methods to calculate GFR, both dependent (the Cockcroft-Gault formula) and independent of weight (cystatin C) and the findings were identical - a decrease in GFR after bed rest. In a recent cross sectional study of persons with early stages of chronic kidney disease, light and total physical activity were positively correlated to kidney function when measured by MDRD. This relationship lost statistical significance after adjustment for BMI, cholesterol, CRP and mean arterial blood pressure. Increased physical activity may reduce the progression of chronic kidney disease by decreasing oxidative stress and inflammation and reducing blood pressure besides the positive effect of weight loss . Conceivably decreased physical activity, in our study bed rest, has the opposite effect with an increase in oxidative stress and inflammation.
We cannot explain why the changes were seen first after the bed rest study was completed and not during bed rest. The effect could be due to the change from resting to standing position as it has previously been shown that body position per se influences renal perfusion . Further studies are required to determine the mechanism of the effect of bed rest on cystatin C as well as other cardiovascular risk markers.