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Serum oxalate rises in uremia because of decreased renal clearance, and crystals of calcium oxalate occur in the tissues of uremic patients. Crystal formation suggests that either uremic serum is supersaturated with calcium oxalate, or local oxalate production or accumulation causes regional supersaturation. To test the first alternative, we ultrafiltered uremic serum and measured supersaturation with two different methods previously used to study supersaturation in urine. First, the relative saturation ratio (RSR), the ratio of the dissolved calcium oxalate complex to the thermodynamic calcium oxalate solubility product, was estimated for 11 uremic (before and after dialysis) and 4 normal serum samples using a computer program. Mean ultrafiltrate oxalate predialysis was 89 +/- 8 microM/liter (+/- SEM), 31 +/- 4 postdialysis, and 10 +/- 3 in normals. Mean RSR was 1.7 +/- 0.1 (predialysis), 0.7 +/- 0.1 (postdialysis), and 0.2 +/- 0.1 (normal), where values greater than 1 denote supersaturation, less than 1, undersaturation. Second, the concentration product ratio (CPR), the ratio of the measured calcium oxalate concentration product before to that after incubation of the sample with calcium oxalate monohydrate crystal, was measured in seven uremic and seven normal serum ultrafiltrates. Mean oxalate was 91 +/- 11 (uremic) and 8 +/- 3 (normal). Mean CPR was 1.4 +/- 0.2 (uremic) and 0.2 +/- 0.1 (normal). Predialysis, 17 of 18 uremic ultrafiltrates were supersaturated with respect to calcium oxalate. The degree of supersaturation was correlated with ultrafiltrate oxalate (RSR, r = 0.99, r = 29, P less than 0.001; CPR, r = 0.75, n = 11, P less than 0.001). A value of ultrafiltrate oxalate of 50 microM/liter separated undersaturated from supersaturated samples and occurred at a creatinine of approximately 9.0 mg/dl.