Hypothesis: dysregulation of immunologic balance resulting from hygiene and socioeconomic factors may influence the epidemiology and cause of glomerulonephritis worldwide

Am J Kidney Dis. 2003 Sep;42(3):575-81. doi: 10.1016/s0272-6386(03)00801-1.


Glomerular diseases show diverse epidemiological characteristics throughout the world, which has been suggested to be caused by differences in genetics of the underlying populations or environmental exposure to the putative antigens or agents that either trigger or induce the disease. Recently, an alteration in immune balance of the T helper 1 (T(H)1) and T helper 2 (T(H)2) subsets has been implicated as a mechanism to explain the relative increase in allergic diseases in industrialized nations. According to the Hygiene Hypothesis, overcrowding and poor hygiene early in life may protect from atopic diseases because exposure to microbes predisposes in favor of a T(H)1-dominant response. Conversely, dominance of the T(H)2 subset would be responsible for the increasing incidence of allergies. We present the hypothesis that this imbalance may help explain the predilection for membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis (GN) and mesangial proliferative GN to be associated with developing and/or poor nations, whereas immunoglobulin A nephropathy and minimal change disease are observed more commonly in industrialized nations. The implication of the Hygiene Hypothesis is that clinical expression of immune-mediated renal disease would depend on the prevailing T(H)1/T(H)2 balance, rather than the etiologic agent, and it may help explain the epidemiological pattern of glomerular diseases worldwide.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Crowding
  • Developed Countries
  • Developing Countries
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Global Health
  • Glomerulonephritis / epidemiology*
  • Glomerulonephritis / immunology
  • Glomerulonephritis, IGA / epidemiology
  • Glomerulonephritis, IGA / immunology
  • Glomerulonephritis, Membranoproliferative / epidemiology
  • Glomerulonephritis, Membranoproliferative / immunology
  • Humans
  • Hygiene*
  • Immune System / growth & development
  • Lymphocyte Count
  • Lymphokines / metabolism
  • Models, Immunological*
  • Nephrosis, Lipoid / epidemiology
  • Nephrosis, Lipoid / immunology
  • Peru / epidemiology
  • Prevalence
  • Socioeconomic Factors*
  • Th1 Cells / immunology
  • Th1 Cells / metabolism
  • Th2 Cells / immunology
  • Th2 Cells / metabolism


  • Lymphokines