Cystatin C Test-Introduction, Test Result, Unit, Reference Range, Test Methods, Clinical Significance, and Keynotes


The Cystatin C test is a valuable tool in nephrology and has been growing in importance as an alternative or supplement to traditional kidney function markers. Here’s an introduction to the Cystatin C test:

Cystatin C Test

Cystatin C is a low molecular weight protein produced by all nucleated cells in the body at a constant rate. It is freely filtered by the glomerulus, a part of the kidney responsible for filtering blood, and is then fully reabsorbed and metabolized by renal tubular cells, leaving none in the urine. Due to these properties, its serum levels can serve as a marker of glomerular filtration rate (GFR), which is a measure of kidney function.

The Cystatin C test assesses the concentration of this protein in the blood, offering insights into how well the kidneys are working. Several key points underscore its clinical utility:

  1. Accuracy: Cystatin C levels are less influenced by factors such as age, sex, diet, and muscle mass, compared to creatinine, another commonly used kidney function marker. This makes it potentially more accurate in certain populations, like the elderly or those with reduced muscle mass.
  2. Early Detection: Some studies suggest that Cystatin C might detect changes in GFR earlier than creatinine, making it especially useful in the early detection of kidney disease or acute kidney injuries.
  3. Alternative to Creatinine: For patients where creatinine measurement might not be optimal (e.g., amputees, those with muscle-wasting diseases), Cystatin C offers an alternative way to assess kidney function.
  4. Cardiovascular Risk: Elevated levels of Cystatin C have also been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular events, giving it potential utility beyond just assessing kidney function.

Test Result, Unit, Reference Range, and Test Methods

The Cystatin C test offers valuable insights into kidney function. Here’s a detailed breakdown regarding its results, units, reference range, and methodologies:

Test Result

  • The test quantifies the concentration of Cystatin C in the blood. Elevated levels typically indicate reduced kidney function.


  • Cystatin C concentration is most commonly reported in mg/L (milligrams per liter). However, the exact unit might vary based on the laboratory and specific method employed.

Reference Range

  • The reference range for Cystatin C can vary among laboratories based on the test methods and population norms. Generally, a reference range of approximately 0.53 to 0.95 mg/L is considered normal for adults, but this can differ. Always refer to the specific reference range provided by the laboratory that performed the test.

Test Methods

There are several methods to measure Cystatin C concentration, with the following being among the most common:

  1. Immunonephelometry: This method uses antibodies specific to Cystatin C and measures the scattering of light caused by antigen-antibody complexes in a solution. It’s a widely used method due to its rapid turnaround and high precision.
  2. Enzyme-Linked Immunosorbent Assay (ELISA): This is a plate-based assay technique that employs specific antibodies and color change to detect and quantify Cystatin C.
  3. Particle-Enhanced Turbidimetric Immunoassay (PETIA): This method measures the turbidity or cloudiness in a solution that results from the formation of antigen-antibody complexes.
  4. High-Performance Liquid Chromatography (HPLC): Though less commonly used for Cystatin C measurement, HPLC can be employed to quantify the protein, especially in research settings.

It’s worth noting that the method used can influence the specific reference range for Cystatin C. Therefore, when interpreting results, it’s essential to consider the specific method used and the reference values provided by the laboratory.

Clinical Significance

The Cystatin C test holds substantial clinical value, primarily in nephrology, but also in other domains of medicine. Here’s a breakdown of its clinical significance:

Kidney Function Assessment

  1. Alternative to Creatinine: Cystatin C serves as an alternative to serum creatinine for evaluating kidney function. Its levels are less influenced by factors like age, sex, muscle mass, and diet, which can affect creatinine levels.
  2. Acute Kidney Injury (AKI): Cystatin C might detect AKI earlier than creatinine, enabling prompt intervention and potentially improved outcomes.
  3. Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD): It can be used to track the progression of CKD and to estimate glomerular filtration rate (GFR), offering a measure of kidney function.

Special Populations

  • Elderly: In older adults, muscle mass can decrease, potentially leading to inaccuracies with creatinine-based GFR estimates. Cystatin C might provide a more accurate measure in these cases.
  • Reduced Muscle Mass: In individuals with muscle-wasting diseases, malnutrition, or other conditions that reduce muscle mass, Cystatin C offers a more reliable marker for kidney function than creatinine.

Cardiovascular Risk

  • Elevated Cystatin C levels have been associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular events and mortality, even in individuals without chronic kidney disease. Thus, it might serve as an independent predictor of cardiovascular risk.

Other Clinical Scenarios

  1. Transplantation: Post-transplant, Cystatin C can be used to monitor graft function.
  2. Drug Dosing: In situations where drug dosing is influenced by kidney function, Cystatin C-based GFR estimates might provide more accurate dosing recommendations for certain drugs.


  • Emerging research suggests that Cystatin C might be involved in other physiological processes, like cellular apoptosis, and could play a role in conditions like cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.


Here are the keynotes on the Cystatin C test:

Protein Origin

Cystatin C is a low molecular weight protein produced consistently by all nucleated cells in the body.

Kidney Function Marker

Cystatin C is freely filtered by the kidneys’ glomeruli and is not reabsorbed, making it an indicator of glomerular filtration rate (GFR).

Advantages Over Creatinine

Unlike creatinine, Cystatin C levels are less influenced by factors such as age, sex, muscle mass, and diet, providing potentially more accurate GFR estimates in certain populations.

Acute Kidney Injury

Cystatin C may detect acute changes in kidney function more promptly than creatinine.

Reference Range

Typically, a concentration of approximately 0.53 to 0.95 mg/L is considered normal for adults, though this may vary based on the laboratory and testing method.

Testing Methods

Common methods to measure Cystatin C include immunonephelometry, ELISA, and PETIA.

Cardiovascular Implications

Elevated Cystatin C levels have been linked to increased cardiovascular risk and mortality.

Special Populations

Cystatin C offers a valuable marker for kidney function in the elderly, those with reduced muscle mass, and others where creatinine may be less reliable.

Transplant Monitoring

Can be used post-transplant to monitor graft function.

Research Potential

Emerging research suggests roles for Cystatin C beyond kidney function, including in cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.

Further Readings


  1. “Chronic Kidney Disease: Diagnosis and Treatment” by Brian Becker and Jai Radhakrishnan: This book delves into various aspects of kidney diseases, including diagnostics, and offers insights into the role of Cystatin C.

Scientific Articles

  • “Serum Cystatin C as an Alternative Marker of Glomerular Filtration Rate” – A comprehensive review discussing the benefits and potential pitfalls of Cystatin C as a marker for GFR.
  • “Cystatin C versus Creatinine in Determining Risk Based on Kidney Function” in the New England Journal of Medicine – An article that discusses the utility of Cystatin C in cardiovascular risk prediction.

Guidelines and Reviews

  • Kidney Disease: Improving Global Outcomes (KDIGO) Guidelines: These guidelines provide a comprehensive overview of various aspects of kidney disease, including diagnostic methods and the potential role of Cystatin C.
  • “The Role of Cystatin C in the Confirmation of Reduced Glomerular Filtration Rate” – A review discussing the clinical utility of Cystatin C in nephrology.

Online Platforms

  1. Lab Tests OnlineA patient-friendly resource, sponsored by the American Association for Clinical Chemistry, which provides detailed information about the Cystatin C test and its significance.
  2. National Kidney Foundation: They offer resources on kidney health, including information on Cystatin C.

Research Databases

  1. PubMed: This is a massive database of scientific articles. By entering “Cystatin C” into the search bar, you can access a plethora of studies and reviews on the topic.

Organizational Resources

  • World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) might have publications or guidelines that touch on kidney health and diagnostic tests, including Cystatin C.

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