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Nat Rev Nephrol. 2019 Oct;15(10):599-612. doi: 10.1038/s41581-019-0184-x. Epub 2019 Aug 22.

Molecular nephrology: types of acute tubular injury.

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Columbia University, New York, NY, USA.
Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, Cincinnati, OH, USA.


The acute loss of kidney function has been diagnosed for many decades using the serum concentration of creatinine - a muscle metabolite that is an insensitive and non-specific marker of kidney function, but is now used for the very definition of acute kidney injury (AKI). Fortunately, myriad new tools have now been developed to better understand the relationship between acute tubular injury and elevation in serum creatinine (SCr). These tools include unbiased gene and protein expression analyses in kidney, urine and blood, the localization of specific gene transcripts in pathological biopsy samples by rapid in-situ RNA technology and single-cell RNA-sequencing analyses. However, this molecular approach to AKI has produced a series of unexpected problems, because the expression of specific kidney-derived molecules that are indicative of injury often do not correlate with SCr levels. This discrepancy between kidney injury markers and SCr level can be reconciled by the recognition that many separate subtypes of AKI exist, each with distinct patterning of molecular markers of tubular injury and SCr data. In this Review, we describe the weaknesses of isolated SCr-based diagnoses, the clinical and molecular subtyping of acute tubular injury, and the role of non-invasive biomarkers in clinical phenotyping. We propose a conceptual model that synthesizes molecular and physiological data along a time course spanning from acute cellular injury to organ failure.


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