A potential role of the intrauterine environment in the development of low nephron number and hypertension in later life has been recently recognized in experimental studies and is also postulated in certain conditions in human beings. Nephrogenesis is influenced by genetic as well as by environmental and in particular maternal factors. In man nephrogenesis, i.e. the formation of nephrons during embryogenesis, takes place from weeks 5 to 36 of gestation with the most rapid phase of nephrogenesis occurring from the mid-2nd trimester until 36 weeks. This 16 week period is a very vulnerable phase where genetic and environmental factors such as maternal diet or medication could influence and disturb nephron formation leading to lower nephron number. Given a constant rise in body mass until adulthood lower nephron number may become "nephron underdosing" and result in maladaptive glomerular changes, i.e. glomerular hyperfiltration and glomerular enlargement. These maladaptive changes may then eventually lead to the development of glomerular and systemic hypertension and renal disease in later life. It is the purpose of this review to discuss the currently available experimental and clinical evidence for factors and mechanisms that could interfere with nephrogenesis with particular emphasis on maternal nutrition. In addition, we discuss the emerging concept of low nephron number being a new cardiovascular risk factor in particular for essential hypertension in later life.
Copyright © 2010 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.