E pluribus unum: The riddle of focal segmental glomerulosclerosis

Semin Nephrol. 2003 Mar;23(2):135-40. doi: 10.1053/snep.2003.50013.


A recent consensus conference proposed a new classification for focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS). Five patterns have been defined: FSGS not otherwise specified, perihilar variant, cellular variant, tip variant, and collapsing variant. In light of the multiplicity of classification schemes in use, the promise of a rational and uniform scheme for FSGS pathology is most welcome. This approach has worked extremely well for the classification of lupus nephritis. It does not necessarily mean, however, that this new classification scheme will help to select treatment protocols according to histopathologic subsets of FSGS. In fact, one renal biopsy examination may show multiple variants and this classification, despite many merits, still lumps categories that should be split and splits categories that should be lumped together. It has become clear that despite its histologic diversity FSGS begins as a podocyte disease that progresses from a cellular to a scar lesion. Recent years have brought about astonishing insight into the complex molecular array of proteins forming the slit diaphragm between podocyte foot processes, a narrow space essential for restricting glomerular permeability to albumin. Concentrating on the podocyte rather than on the glomerular tuft is helpful for abolishing the classic distinction between primary versus secondary forms of FSGS, a distinction that crumbles away with each new evidence of genetic, ischemic, or viral etiologies of FSGS, despite similar lesions. In fact, recent studies focusing on the podocyte changes that occur in various subsets of FSGS have unraveled the striking phenomena of podocyte dedifferentiation and transdifferentiation along with differential expression of cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors. Interestingly, the latter showed that expression of cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors p21 and proliferation marker Ki-67 are the same in cellular FSGS, collapsing glomerulopathy, and human immunodeficiency virus-associated FSGS. Taken together these findings lead to a reassuring unitary interpretation of the pluralistic appearance of FSGS by histopathology. Clearly, further studies of the podocyte will lead to improved understanding of FSGS and to improved classification schemes that are grounded in molecular understanding of glomerular injury and that will guide the clinician in the choice of treatment and prognosis.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Glomerulosclerosis, Focal Segmental / classification*
  • Glomerulosclerosis, Focal Segmental / diagnosis
  • Glomerulosclerosis, Focal Segmental / pathology*
  • Humans