Background: Glomerular hypertrophy occurs in a number of normal and pathological states. Glomerular volume in kidneys at autopsy is usually indirectly derived from estimates of total glomerular mass and nephron number, and provides only a single value per kidney, with no indication of the range of volumes of glomeruli within the kidney of any given subject. We review findings of the distribution of volumes of different glomeruli within subjects without kidney disease, and their correlations with age, nephron number, birth weight and body mass index (BMI).
Methods: The study describes findings from autopsy kidneys of selected adult white males from the Southeast USA who had unexpected deaths, and who did not have renal scarring or renal disease. Total glomerular (nephron) number and total glomerular volume were estimated using the disector/fractionator combination, and mean glomerular volume (Vglom) was derived. The volumes of 30 individual glomeruli (IGV) in each subject were determined using the disector/Cavalieri method. IGV values were compared by categories of age, nephron number, birth weight and BMI.
Results: There was substantial variation in IGV within subjects. Older age, lower nephron number, lower birth weight and gross obesity were associated with higher mean IGV and with greater IGV heterogeneity. High Vglom and high IGVs were associated with more glomerulosclerosis. However, amongst the generally modest numbers of sclerosed glomeruli, the pattern was uniformly of ischemic collapse of the glomerular tuft. There was no detectable focal segmental glomerular tuft injury.
Discussion: In this series of people without overt renal disease, greater age, nephron deficit, lower birth weight and obesity were marked by glomerular enlargement and greater glomerular volume heterogeneity within individuals.