Diabetic nephropathy has been traditionally diagnosed based on persistently high albuminuria and a subsequent decline in glomerular filtration rate (GFR), which is widely recognized as the classical phenotype of diabetic kidney disease (DKD). Several studies have emphasized that trajectories of kidney function in patients with diabetes (specifically, changes in GFR and albuminuria over time) can differ from this classical DKD phenotype. Three alternative DKD phenotypes have been reported to date and are characterized by albuminuria regression, a rapid decline in GFR, or non-proteinuric or non-albuminuric DKD. Although kidney biopsies are not typically required for the diagnosis of DKD, a few studies of biopsy samples from patients with DKD have demonstrated that changes in kidney function associate with specific histopathological findings in diabetes. In addition, various clinical and biochemical parameters are related to trajectories of GFR and albuminuria. Collectively, pathological and clinical characteristics can be used to predict trajectories of GFR and albuminuria in diabetes. Furthermore, cohort studies have suggested that the risks of kidney and cardiovascular outcomes might vary among different phenotypes of DKD. A broader understanding of the clinical course of DKD is therefore crucial to improve risk stratification and enable early interventions that prevent adverse outcomes.
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