Does nephron number matter in the development of kidney disease?

Ethn Dis. 2006 Spring;16(2 Suppl 2):S2-40-5.


The total number of nephrons in normal human kidneys varies over a 10-fold range. This variation in total nephron number leads us to question whether low nephron number increases the risk of renal disease in adulthood. This review considers the available evidence in humans linking low nephron number/reduced nephron endowment and the susceptibility to renal disease. Total nephron number in humans has been directly correlated with birth weight and inversely correlated with age, mean glomerular volume, and hypertension. Low nephron number may be the result of suboptimal nephrogenesis during kidney development and/or loss of nephrons once nephrogenesis has been completed. Low nephron number is frequently, but not always, associated with hypertrophy of remaining glomeruli. This compensatory hypertrophy has also been associated with a greater susceptibility for kidney disease. Three human studies have reported reduced nephron number in subjects with a history of hypertension. This correlation has been observed in White Europeans, White Americans (but not African Americans) and Australian Aborigines. Studies in additional populations are required, as well as a greater understanding of the fetal environmental and genetic determinants of low nephron number.

MeSH terms

  • Birth Weight
  • Black or African American
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Glomerulosclerosis, Focal Segmental / pathology
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / ethnology
  • Hypertension / pathology
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / ethnology*
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / pathology*
  • Kidney Glomerulus / pathology
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander
  • Nephrons / embryology
  • Nephrons / pathology*
  • Risk Factors
  • White People