Background: Heterozygous mutations in the COL4A3/ COL4A4 genes are currently thought to be responsible for familial benign microscopic haematuria and maintenance of normal long-term kidney function.
Methods: We report on 11 large Cypriot pedigrees with three such mutations. A total of 236 at-risk family members were genetically studied, and 127 (53.8%) carried a heterozygous mutation. Clinico-pathological correlations were available in all of these patients. Renal biopsies in 21 of these patients all showed various stages of focal, segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS). Thirteen of these biopsies were also studied with EM and showed thinning of the glomerular basement membrane.
Results: Mutation G1334E (COL4A3) was found in six pedigrees, mutation G871C (COL4A3) in four and mutation 3854delG (COL4A4) in one pedigree. Clinical and laboratory correlations in all 127 mutation carriers (MC) showed that microscopic haematuria was the only urinary finding in patients under age 30. The prevalence of 'haematuria alone' fell to 66% between 31 and 50 years, to 30% between 51 and 70 and to 23% over age 71. Proteinuria with CRF developed on top of haematuria in 8% of all MC between 31 and 50 years, to 25% between 51 and 70 years and to 50% over 71 years. Altogether 18 of these 127 MC (14%) developed ESRD at a mean age of 60 years. Two members with different mutations married, and two of their children inherited both mutations and developed adolescent, autosomal recessive Alport syndrome (ATS), confirming that these mutations are pathogenic.
Conclusions: Our data confirm for the first time a definite association of heterozygous COL4A3/COL4A4 mutations with familial microscopic haematuria, thin basement membrane nephropathy and the late development of familial proteinuria, CRF, and ESRD, due to FSGS, indicating that the term 'benign familial haematuria' is a misnomer, at least in this cohort. A strong hypothesis for a causal relationship between these mutations and FSGS is also made. Benign familial haematuria may not be so benign as commonly thought.