Thin glomerular basement membrane nephropathy: incidence in 3471 consecutive renal biopsies examined by electron microscopy

Arch Pathol Lab Med. 2006 May;130(5):699-706. doi: 10.5858/2006-130-699-TGBMNI.


Context: Thin glomerular basement membrane (GBM) nephropathy is often equated with benign familial hematuria, although it may occur sporadically and may not always be benign. Thin GBM nephropathy is reported to occur in at least 1% of the population, although its reported incidence varies considerably in different studies because there are presently no uniform criteria for its diagnosis by electron microscopy (EM).

Objective: To determine the incidence of thin GBM nephropathy in a large sample of renal biopsies using a basic methodology that can easily be applied in any diagnostic EM laboratory.

Design: Direct measurements of GBM thickness were made from electron micrographs at 3 specified points along each of 10 randomly selected glomerular capillaries to determine an average GBM thickness for each of 50 males and 50 females, ages 9 to 80 years, with minimal-change nephropathy or acute interstitial nephritis, without hematuria. The means of the average GBM thickness values were 330 +/- 50 (SD) nm in the males and 305 +/- 45 nm in the females; normal ranges for each sex were defined as being within 2 SD of these means. The average GBM thickness was then similarly determined for renal biopsies with suspected thin GBMs examined from January 2000 to December 2004; a total of 3471 renal biopsies were examined by EM during this period.

Setting: Academic medical center renal pathology/EM laboratory.

Results: Excluding biopsies with immunoglobulin A nephropathy, which is known to be frequently associated with thin GBMs, and biopsies with Alport syndrome, 67 biopsies (1.9% of total) had an average GBM thickness below the sex-specific normal range. Of these, 37 biopsies were performed specifically because of hematuria and had an average GBM thickness of 121 to 215 nm (mean, 185 +/- 20 nm). The remaining 30 (0.9%) biopsies, with average GBM thicknesses of 143 to 227 nm (mean, 190 +/- 20 nm), represent cases of incidentally discovered thin GBM nephropathy.

Conclusions: Based on the frequency of incidentally discovered cases and taking into account excluded cases and biopsies (eg, with diabetic nephropathy) in which diagnosis of incidental thin GBM nephropathy by EM is not possible, the incidence of thin GBM nephropathy in our population is estimated to be between 1% and 2%. Diseases most often associated with incidental thin GBM nephropathy were focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (10 cases) and minimal-change nephropathy (5 cases).

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biopsy
  • Child
  • Female
  • Glomerular Basement Membrane / ultrastructure*
  • Hematuria / epidemiology
  • Hematuria / etiology
  • Hematuria / pathology
  • Humans
  • Kidney Glomerulus / pathology*
  • Male
  • Maryland / epidemiology
  • Microscopy, Electron, Transmission / methods*
  • Middle Aged
  • Nephritis, Interstitial / complications
  • Nephritis, Interstitial / epidemiology
  • Nephritis, Interstitial / pathology*
  • Nephrosis, Lipoid / complications
  • Nephrosis, Lipoid / epidemiology
  • Nephrosis, Lipoid / pathology*
  • Reference Values