The renal biopsy in the genomic era

Pediatr Nephrol. 2013 Aug;28(8):1207-19. doi: 10.1007/s00467-012-2356-9. Epub 2012 Nov 21.


Renal biopsy was introduced in the 1950s. By 1980 the pathologic diagnostic criteria for the majority of medical kidney diseases known today, including pediatric diseases, were established using light, electron microscopy and immunohistochemistry. However, it has become clear that there are limitations in the morphologic evaluation, mainly because a given pattern of injury can be caused by different aetiologies and, conversely, a single aetiology may present with more than one histological pattern. An explosion in kidney disease research in the last 20-30 years has brought new knowledge from bench to bedside rapidly and resulted in new molecular and genetic tools that enhance the diagnostic and prognostic power of the renal biopsy. Genomic technologies such as polymerase chain reaction (PCR), in situ hybridization and oligonucleotide microarrays, collectively known as genomics, detect single or multiple genes underscoring the pathologic changes and revealing specific causes of injury that may require different treatment. The aims of this review are to (1) summarize current recommendations for diagnostic renal biopsies encompassing light microscopy, immunofluorescence or immunohistochemistry and electron microscopy; (2) address the limitations of morphology; (3) show current contributions of genomic technologies adjunct to the renal biopsy, and provide examples of how these may transform pathologic interpretation into molecular disease phenotypes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biopsy*
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Genetic Testing
  • Genomics* / methods
  • Humans
  • Kidney / pathology*
  • Kidney Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Kidney Diseases / genetics
  • Kidney Diseases / pathology
  • Kidney Diseases / therapy
  • Phenotype
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prognosis