European Journal of Clinical Pharmacology

, Volume 75, Issue 2, pp 147–156 | Cite as

The intact nephron hypothesis as a model for renal drug handling

  • Sudeep Pradhan
  • Stephen B. Duffull
  • Robert J. Walker
  • Daniel F. B. WrightEmail author



The intact nephron hypothesis (INH) states that impaired renal function results from a reduction in the number of complete (intact) nephrons. Under this model, renal drug clearance is assumed to be a linear function of glomerular filtration while tubular handling is ignored. The aims of this study were to systematically review published studies designed to test the INH and to assess the strength of the study designs used.


A systematic literature search was conducted in MEDLINE, EMBASE and Google Scholar. Studies specifically designed to understand the relationship between glomerular and tubular function across different levels of renal function were included. Studies that found a linear relationship between GFR and tubular clearance were deemed to support the INH while studies that found a non-linear relationship did not support the INH. Study design was accessed using a bespoke strength of evidence score.


Thirty studies met the criteria for inclusion. Of these, 24 did not support the INH. Studies that did not support the INH used methods for measuring tubular clearance that were more robust and included subjects with a wider range of GFR values than studies that supported the INH.


Our results suggest that the INH may not be a suitable general model for renal drug handling, particularly for drugs that are eliminated by tubular mechanisms. Further studies to assess the clinical importance of a non-linear relationship between drug clearance and GFR are warranted.


Intact nephron hypothesis Renal drug handling Renal dose adjustment Systematic review 



S.P. was supported by a University of Otago Doctoral Scholarship.

Author’s contributions

D.F.B.W., S.B.D., R.J.W. and S.P. conceived and designed the study. S.P. performed the review with audit by D.F.B.W. S.P., D.F.B.W., S.B.D. and R.J.W. wrote and revised the manuscript.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of PharmacyUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand
  2. 2.Department of MedicineUniversity of OtagoDunedinNew Zealand

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