, Volume 26, Issue 9, pp 1529-1533
Date: 22 May 2011

Human nephron number: implications for health and disease

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Abstract

Several studies have shown that total nephron (glomerular) number varies widely in normal human kidneys. Whereas the studies agree that average nephron number is approximately 900,000 to 1 million per kidney, numbers for individual kidneys range from approximately 200,000 to >2.5 million. Several studies have shown loss of glomeruli due to age-related glomerulosclerosis. The rates of loss vary among individuals depending upon blood pressure, diseases affecting the kidney, and other attributes of health, but most of the variation in nephron number is present at birth and is therefore developmentally determined. For example, in a relatively small study of nephron number in 15 children <3 months of age, we found that nephron number ranged from approximately 250,000 to 1.1 million. Given that no new nephrons are formed in human kidneys after approximately 36 weeks’ gestation, much interest has focused on renal function and health in individuals born with relatively low nephron endowment. Several studies have reported a direct correlation between birth weight and nephron number and an indirect association between nephron number and blood pressure. Associations between low birth weight and cardiovascular disease, including hypertension, have also been widely reported. This report provides an update on our current knowledge of human nephron number and the associations with adult health and disease.