Crystal nephropathies: mechanisms of crystal-induced kidney injury

Nat Rev Nephrol. 2017 Apr;13(4):226-240. doi: 10.1038/nrneph.2017.10. Epub 2017 Feb 20.


Crystals can trigger a wide range of kidney injuries that can lead to acute kidney injury, chronic kidney disease, renal colic or nephrocalcinosis, depending on the localization and dynamics of crystal deposition. Studies of the biology of crystal handling by the kidney have shown that the formation of different crystals and other microparticles and the associated mechanisms of renal damage share molecular mechanisms, such as stimulation of the NLRP3 inflammasome or direct cytotoxicity through activation of the necroptosis signalling pathway. By contrast, crystal granuloma formation is limited to chronic crystallopathies that lead to chronic kidney disease and renal fibrosis. Here, we discuss current understanding of the pathomechanisms underlying the different types of crystal-induced kidney injury and propose a classification of crystal nephropathies based on the localization of crystal deposits in the renal vasculature (type 1), the nephron (type 2), or the draining urinary tract (type 3). Further exploration of the molecular mechanisms of crystal-induced kidney injury and renal remodelling might aid the development of innovative cures for these diseases.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acute Kidney Injury / etiology
  • Crystallization
  • Humans
  • Kidney Diseases / diagnosis
  • Kidney Diseases / etiology*
  • Kidney Diseases / therapy
  • Renal Insufficiency, Chronic / etiology