Introduction: Sepsis is the most common trigger of acute kidney injury (AKI) in critically ill patients; understanding the structural changes associated with its occurrence is therefore important. Accordingly, we systematically reviewed the literature to assess current knowledge on the histopathology of septic AKI.
Methods: A systematic review of the MEDLINE, EMBASE and CINHAL databases and bibliographies of the retrieved articles was performed for all studies describing kidney histopathology in septic AKI.
Results: We found six studies reporting the histopathology of septic AKI for a total of only 184 patients. Among these patients, only 26 (22%) had features suggestive of acute tubular necrosis (ATN). We found four primate studies. In these, seven out of 19 (37%) cases showed features of ATN. We also found 13 rodent studies of septic AKI. In total, 23% showed evidence of ATN. In two additional studies performed in a dog model and a sheep model there was no evidence of ATN on histopathologic examination. Overall, when ATN was absent, studies reported a wide variety of kidney morphologic changes in septic AKI - ranging from normal (in most cases) to marked cortical tubular necrosis.
Conclusion: There are no consistent renal histopathological changes in human or experimental septic AKI. The majority of studies reported normal histology or only mild, nonspecific changes. ATN was relatively uncommon.