Kidney growth following preterm birth: evaluation with renal parenchyma ultrasonography

Pediatr Res. 2023 Apr;93(5):1302-1306. doi: 10.1038/s41390-022-01970-8. Epub 2022 Feb 4.


Background: Preterm birth impairs nephrogenesis, leading to a reduced nephron endowment which is inextricably linked to hypertension and chronic kidney disease in adults. The aim of this study was to compare nephron endowment between preterm infants to that of intrauterine fetuses at the same gestational age (GA) using a novel indirect ultrasound measurement of the renal parenchymal thickness. We hypothesized that extrauterine and intrauterine renal parenchymal thickness would differ based on altered renal growth environments.

Methods: In this observational study, appropriately grown preterm infants (birth weight of between the 5th and 95th percentile) born <32 weeks, admitted to the neonatal department were eligible to participate. Renal parenchymal thickness of the infants was measured at 32- and 37-weeks postmenstrual age (PMA). These measurements were compared to the intrauterine renal parenchymal thickness of appropriately grown fetuses (control).

Results: At 32-weeks PMA, the preterm infants had a significantly thinner renal parenchyma compared to fetuses at 32-weeks GA suggesting they had less nephrons, however by 37-weeks there was no significant difference in renal parenchymal thickness.

Conclusions: We propose that the differences in the extrauterine growth of the renal parenchyma in preterm infants may be due to a reduced number of nephrons and compensatory hyperfiltration.

Impact: This article provides insight into the effects of prematurity on nephrogenesis by comparing extrauterine renal parenchymal growth of born preterm infants to the ideal intrauterine fetal growth. Renal parenchyma thickness measurement using ultrasonography is a novel non-invasive measurement of renal development for the determination of nephron endowment. Differences in the renal parenchymal thickness of the preterm infants may be due to a deficit in nephron number and compensatory hyperfiltration.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Gestational Age
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Premature*
  • Kidney
  • Nephrons / diagnostic imaging
  • Premature Birth* / diagnostic imaging
  • Ultrasonography