Background: Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease is usually caused by a mutant gene at the PKD1 locus on the short arm of chromosome 16, but in about 4 percent of families with the disorder it is caused by unknown mutations elsewhere in the genome. The natural course of the disease in both genetic forms is not well characterized.
Methods: We studied 17 families with autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease to compare presymptomatic diagnosis by ultrasonography with diagnosis by genetic-linkage studies and to relate clinical variation of the disease to whether the PKD1 mutation was implicated.
Results: In 10 families the disorder was found to cosegregate with polymorphic DNA markers flanking the PKD1 locus, in 2 families it did not, and in 5 families linkage could not be determined. In the 10 families with the PKD1 mutation, 46 percent of the members less than 30 years old who had a 50 percent risk of inheriting a mutation had renal cysts, as compared with 11 percent of the members of the two families without linkage (P less than 0.001). In the PKD1 families, all 67 diagnoses made by ultrasonography were confirmed by determination of the genotype as inferred from linkage. Forty of 48 members (83 percent) less than 30 years old who inherited the PKD1 mutation had renal cysts. All 27 members 30 years old or older who inherited the mutation had renal cysts, suggesting that the probability of a false negative diagnosis did not exceed 0.13 in this age group (P less than 0.05). The mean (+/- SE) age at the onset of end-stage renal disease among members of the PKD1 families was 56.7 +/- 1.9 years, as compared with 69.4 +/- 1.7 years among members with cysts in the families without linkage (P = 0.0025). Hypertension and renal impairment were less frequent and occurred later in the families without the PKD1 mutation.
Conclusions: At present, in most persons with a 50 percent risk of autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease, imaging techniques are the only mode of reaching a diagnosis before symptoms appear. In such persons a negative ultrasonographic study during early adult life indicates that the likelihood of inheriting a PKD1 mutation is small. In the few who inherit a non-PKD1 mutation for polycystic kidney disease, renal failure is likely to occur relatively late in life.