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How do SGLT2 inhibitors protect the kidney? A mediation analysis of the EMPA-REG OUTCOME trial.

INTRODUCTION: Mechanisms underlying kidney benefits with sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 (SGLT2) inhibition in heart failure and/or type 2 diabetes (T2D) with established cardiovascular disease are currently unclear.

METHODS: We evaluated post hoc the factors mediating the effect of empagliflozin on a composite kidney outcome (first sustained estimate glomerular filtration rate ≥40% reduction from baseline, initiation of renal replacement therapy, or death due to kidney disease) in EMPA-REG OUTCOME. Variables, calculated as change from baseline or updated mean, were evaluated as time-dependent covariates and using a landmark approach (at Week 12) in Cox regression analyses. In multivariable analyses, variables with the greatest mediating effect were added using a step-up procedure.

RESULTS: In univariable time-dependent updated mean covariate analyses, the strongest mediator was hematocrit (99.5% mediation). Hemoglobin, uric acid, and urine albumin-to-creatinine ratio mediated 79.4%, 33.2%, and 31.0%, respectively. Multivariable analyses were not performed due to the very strong mediation effect of hematocrit. In univariable Week 12 landmark change from baseline analyses, the strongest mediators included hematocrit (40.7%), glycated hemoglobin (28.3%), systolic blood pressure (16.8%), and free fatty acids (16.5%), which yielded a combined mediation of 78.9% in multivariable analysis.

CONCLUSIONS: Changes in hematocrit and hemoglobin were the strongest mediators of empagliflozin's kidney benefits in EMPA-REG OUTCOME participants with T2D and cardiovascular disease.

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