Fifty years of research in Balkan endemic nephropathy: where are we now?

Nephron Clin Pract. 2009;112(2):c51-6. doi: 10.1159/000213081. Epub 2009 Apr 18.


Despite broad investigations into the possible role of genetic factors, environmental agents and immune mechanisms, the etiology of Balkan endemic nephropathy (BEN) is only partially understood. An increased incidence of upper urothelial cancer in patients with BEN and in populations from endemic settlements has been demonstrated. Genetic studies have landed support for genetic predisposition to BEN. The similarity of the morphological and clinical pattern of BEN and Chinese herbs nephropathy has raised the possibility of a common etiologic agent, aristolochic acid (AA), described in 1969 by Ivić and confirmed by a recent study of AA-DNA adducts. Ochratoxin A (OTA) is studied extensively as the etiologic agent of BEN. Weathering of low-rank coals nearby the endemic villages produces water-soluble polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and aromatic amines, similar to metabolic products of acetaminophen, which has a causal relationship with analgesic nephropathy. AA is confirmed as the etiologic agent of BEN; however, it may not be the sole risk factor. More research is needed on the patterns of BEN over time and between different endemic places. Therefore, it is important to test etiological hypotheses in different endemic foci, preferably as a multicentric research. An international approach to solving the etiology of BEN is needed in the coming years. The geographic correlation and presence of AA-DNA adducts in both BEN and associated urothelial cancer support the hypothesis that these diseases share a common etiology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Balkan Nephropathy / diagnosis*
  • Balkan Nephropathy / epidemiology*
  • Coal*
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Environmental Pollution / statistics & numerical data*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Polycyclic Compounds*


  • Coal
  • Polycyclic Compounds