Clinical wasting is an important risk factor for mortality in uremic patients and is reported to have a prevalence of 30-60%. 'Malnutrition' is often inappropriately used to describe a group of nutritional abnormalities in uremic patients, which are characterized by anorexia, increased basal metabolic rate, loss of lean body mass, and declining levels of serum proteins. This syndrome - more accurately described as 'cachexia' - manifests as growth failure in children with uremia. Acidosis and inflammation are important causes of uremic cachexia but the underlying molecular mechanism is not well understood. Concentrations of circulating cytokines, such as leptin, tumor necrosis factor-α, interleukin-1, and interleukin-6, are elevated in patients with end-stage renal disease and correlate with the degree of cachexia in these individuals. Other energy-modulating hormones such as ghrelin, and adipokines such as adiponectin and resistin, are also perturbed in uremia and could contribute to nutritional abnormalities. We recently showed that elevated levels of circulating cytokines might be an important contributor to uremia-associated cachexia via signaling through the central melanocortin system. Small-molecule melanocortin antagonists, which are biologically active when administered orally or intraperitoneally, are now available and have been used successfully to ameliorate experimental cachexia. These findings could form the basis of a novel therapeutic strategy for uremic cachexia.
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