The contribution of African ancestry to the risk of focal segmental glomerulosclerosis and chronic kidney disease has been partially explained by the recently described chromosome 22q variants in the gene apolipoprotein L1 (APOL1). The APOL1 variants appear at a high allele frequency in populations of West African ancestry as a result of apparent adaptive selection of the heterozygous state. Heterozygosity protects from infection with Trypanosoma brucei rhodesiense. This review will describe the role of the approaches in population genetics for the description of APOL1-associated nephropathies and draw inferences as to the biologic mechanisms from genetic epidemiology findings to date. Modifier loci can influence APOL1 risk for the development of kidney disease. 'Second hits', both viral and non-viral, may explain the discrepancy between the remarkably high odds ratios and the low lifetime risks of kidney disease in two allele carriers of APOL1 risk variants. Therapeutic strategies for APOL1-associated nephropathies will require the prevention and treatment of these 'second hits' and the development of drugs to protect the APOL1 downstream renal injury pathways.
Keywords: African American; FSGS; HIV; admixture; hypertension-attributed nephropathy.
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