Although a rare disease, bilateral congenital anomalies of the kidney and urinary tract (CAKUT) are the leading cause of end stage kidney disease in children. Ultrasound-based prenatal prediction of postnatal kidney survival in CAKUT pregnancies is far from accurate. To improve prediction, we conducted a prospective multicenter peptidome analysis of amniotic fluid spanning 140 evaluable fetuses with CAKUT. We identified a signature of 98 endogenous amniotic fluid peptides, mainly composed of fragments from extracellular matrix proteins and from the actin binding protein thymosin-β4. The peptide signature predicted postnatal kidney outcome with an area under the curve of 0.96 in the holdout validation set of patients with CAKUT with definite endpoint data. Additionally, this peptide signature was validated in a geographically independent sub-cohort of 12 patients (area under the curve 1.00) and displayed high specificity in non-CAKUT pregnancies (82 and 94% in 22 healthy fetuses and in 47 fetuses with congenital cytomegalovirus infection respectively). Change in amniotic fluid thymosin-β4 abundance was confirmed with ELISA. Knockout of thymosin-β4 in zebrafish altered proximal and distal tubule pronephros growth suggesting a possible role of thymosin β4 in fetal kidney development. Thus, recognition of the 98-peptide signature in amniotic fluid during diagnostic workup of prenatally detected fetuses with CAKUT can provide a long-sought evidence base for accurate management of the CAKUT disorder that is currently unavailable.
Keywords: amniotic fluid; congenital anomalies of the kidney and the urinary tract; infants; management; peptides; prediction; termination of pregnancy.
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