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Semin Fetal Neonatal Med. 2008 Jun;13(3):142-51. Epub 2007 Dec 11.

Dysplastic kidneys.

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Institute of Child Health, University College London, 30 Guilford Street, London, UK.


Dysplastic kidneys are common malformations affecting up to 1 in 1000 of the general population. They are part of the spectrum of Congenital Abnormalities of the Kidney and Urinary Tract (CAKUT) and an increasing number of children are being diagnosed on antenatal ultrasound. In the past, these patients may not have been detected until adulthood following investigation for other illness, or even as incidental findings at post mortem, unless there was severe bilateral dysplasia leading to Potter's sequence or renal failure in childhood. Excluding syndromic cases with defects in other organ systems, features linked to worse prognosis at presentation are: (1) bilateral disease; (2) decreased functional renal mass (which encompasses not just small kidneys but also large ones where cysts replace normal architecture); (3) lower urinary tract obstruction; and (4) anhydramnios or severe oligohydramnios. Dysplasia and renal function are dynamic and can evolve during pregnancy, so repeated assessment is necessary when pathology is expected. Worsening dimensions or decreasing amniotic fluid levels imply poorer prognosis, but there are no proven therapies during pregnancy, though vesicoamniotic shunting may be indicated with obstruction. Postnatal investigations aim to define the anatomy, which helps to estimate risks of infection and kidney function. Management might then involve observation, prophylactic antibiotics, surgery and/or renal support. Risks of renal malignancy and hypertension are low during childhood, but longer-term follow-up is needed, particularly to determine blood pressure and renal function in adulthood and pregnancy. Around 10% of cases have a family history of significant renal/urinary tract malformation. Monogenic causes include mutations in individual genes, such as TCF2/hepatocyte nuclear factor 1ss (HNF1beta), PAX2 and uroplakins, but there are also recent reports of children with compound heterozygote mutations in several renal/urinary tract developmental genes. Effective genetic screening in future may require gene chip or other techniques to assess multiple genes concurrently, but this should not replace a multidisciplinary approach to these often difficult cases.

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