Clinical Significance of the Cystic Phenotype in Alport Syndrome

Am J Kidney Dis. 2024 Mar 19:S0272-6386(24)00681-4. doi: 10.1053/j.ajkd.2024.02.005. Online ahead of print.


Rationale & objective: Alport syndrome (AS) is the most common genetic glomerular disease caused by mutations that affect type IV collagen. However, the clinical characteristics and significance of AS with kidney cysts are not well defined. This study investigated the prevalence and clinical significance of cystic kidney phenotype in AS.

Study design: Retrospective cohort study.

Setting & participants: One hundred-eight patients with AS and a comparison cohort of 79 patients with IgA nephropathy (IgAN). Clinical, genetic, and imaging data were collected from medical records.

Exposure: Cystic kidney phenotype evaluated by ultrasonography and defined as the presence of≥3 cysts in each kidney; demographic characteristics and estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR) at disease onset.

Outcome: Cystic kidney phenotype in the AS and IgAN cohorts; time to chronic kidney disease (CKD) stage 3b and longitudinal changes in eGFR in the AS cohort.

Analytical approach: Logistic regression analysis to test independent strengths of associations of clinical/demographic features with the binary outcome of cystic phenotype. Survival analysis for the outcome of reaching CKD stage 3b and linear mixed models for changes in eGFR over time in the AS cohort.

Results: We studied 108 patients with AS; 76 (70%) had a genetic diagnosis. Autosomal dominant AS was prevalent, accounting for 68% of patients with a genetic diagnosis. Cystic kidney phenotype was observed in 38% of patients with AS and was associated with normal-sized kidneys in all but 3 patients, who showed increased total kidney volume, mimicking autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease. The prevalence of cystic kidney phenotype was significantly higher in patients with AS when compared with the group of patients with IgAN (42% vs 19%; P=0.002). Patients with the cystic kidney phenotype were older and had more marked reduction in eGFR than patients without cystic changes. Among patients with AS, the cystic phenotype was associated with older age and a faster decline eGFR.

Limitations: Retrospective, single-center study.

Conclusions: Cystic kidney phenotype is a common finding in AS. The cystic kidney phenotype is a common finding in AS, suggesting a possible role in cystogenesis for the genetic variants that cause this disease.

Plain-language summary: Hematuria is the classic renal presentation of Alport syndrome (AS), a hereditary glomerulopathy caused by pathogenic variants of the COL4A3-5 genes. An atypical kidney cystic phenotype has been rarely reported in individuals with these variants. To determine the prevalence of kidney cysts, we performed abdominal ultrasonography in a large group of patients with AS and a comparison group of patients with another glomerular kidney disease, IgA nephropathy (IgAN). Multiple kidney cysts, usually with normal kidney volume, were found in 38% of patients with AS. A few patients' kidney volumes were large enough to mimic a different hereditary cystic kidney disease, autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease. The overall prevalence of kidney cysts in AS was more than double that observed in the well-matched comparison group with IgAN. These findings emphasize the high prevalence of cystic kidney phenotype in AS, suggesting a likely association between the genetic variants that cause this disease and the development of kidney cysts.

Keywords: Alport syndrome; COL4A3; COL4A4; COL4A5 variants; IgA nephropathy and kidney cysts; autosomal dominant Alport syndrome; cystic kidney disease; genetic kidney disease; kidney cysts.