How to assess glomerular function and damage in humans

J Hypertens. 1999 Mar;17(3):309-17. doi: 10.1097/00004872-199917030-00002.


In human subjects, the assessment of renal function and of its changes by interventions is limited to the measurement of glomerular filtration rate (GFR), renal blood flow and the estimation of proteinuria. In humans, GFR can be determined exactly by measuring the clearance of an ideal filtration marker, such as inulin. The classic method of measuring inulin clearance in humans includes constant intravenous infusion of the compound and timed collections of urine. In order to avoid the need for timed urine collections, a number of alternative procedures have been devised. All these methods only use determinations of inulin in plasma or serum. From these, the total body inulin clearance is obtained using pharmacokinetic calculations. In order to measure total body clearance, usually called plasma clearance, inulin is either given as a constant intravenous infusion or as a bolus infusion. Both procedures overestimate GFR because of incomplete distribution of inulin during the study periods. The error may be minimized by using model-independent pharmacokinetic calculations. Unlike inulin, creatinine is not a perfect filtration marker. This is because the substance is not only eliminated by glomerular filtration but also by tubular secretion. The extent of tubular creatinine secretion is not constant in various individuals. Serum creatinine concentration is a commonly used measure of renal function in clinical practice. This parameter is determined both by the renal elimination and by the production of the compound. Differences in creatinine production among subjects and over time in a single individual may occur because of changes in muscle mass. Radioisotopic filtration markers can easily and accurately be measured in plasma and serum. Using this method, the plasma concentration-time curve of these compounds can easily be studied after intravenous bolus injection. From the plasma concentration-time curves obtained, the total body clearance (plasma clearance) of the substances can be calculated using pharmacokinetic models. Most frequently, 125l-iothalamate, 99mTc-diethylenethiaminepenta-acetic acid and 51Cr-ethylenediaminetetra-acetic acid are used for the estimation of GFR in humans. The total body clearance of all these filtration markers overestimates GFR. The error induced by this phenomenon is particularly relevant at low levels of GFR. In recent years, iohexol has been used as a filtration marker. The substance can be measured in plasma, serum and urine using high-performance liquid chromatography. So far, good agreement has been shown for GFR determined by the classic inulin clearance and by the iohexol plasma clearance. Screening for proteinuria is commonly performed using reagent test strips. Quantitative measurements of marker proteins can be used to estimate the extent and the site of damage in the nephron. These measurements may be used to estimate the progression of renal disease and the response to therapeutic interventions. Of particular interest is the degree of albuminuria which indicates nephropathy in diabetic patients and end-organ damage in patients with hypertension.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Kidney Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Kidney Function Tests*
  • Kidney Glomerulus / physiopathology*