Polycystic Kidney Disease
- Author: Roser Torra, MD, PhD; Chief Editor: Vecihi Batuman, MD, FACP, FASN more...
Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) is a multisystemic and progressive disorder characterized by cyst formation and enlargement in the kidney (see the image below) and other organs (eg, liver, pancreas, spleen). Up to 50% of patients with ADPKD require renal replacement therapy by 60 years of age.
Signs and symptoms
Pain—in the abdomen, flank, or back—is the most common initial complaint, and it is almost universally present in patients with ADPKD. Dull aching and an uncomfortable sensation of heaviness may result from a large polycystic liver.
The pain can be caused by any of the following:
Enlargement of one or more cysts
Bleeding: May be confined inside the cyst or lead to gross hematuria with passage of clots or a perinephric hematoma
UTI (eg, acute pyelonephritis, infected cysts, perinephric abscess)
Nephrolithiasis and renal colic
Rarely, a coincidental hypernephroma
See Presentation for more detail.
Examination in patients with ADPKD may demonstrate the following:
Hypertension: One of the most common early manifestations of ADPKD, [1, 2] in which increased diastolic BP is the rule; clinical course in ADPKD is usually more severe early on, then becomes less problematic as the renal insufficiency progresses
Palpable, bilateral flank masses: In advanced ADPKD
Nodular hepatomegaly: In severe polycystic liver disease
Rarely, symptoms related to renal failure (eg, pallor, uremic fetor, dry skin, edema)
Routine laboratory studies include the following:
Serum chemistry profile, including calcium and phosphorus
CBC count from cysts
Uric acid determination
Intact PTH assay
Genetic testing may be performed, in which the major indication is for genetic screening in young adults with negative ultrasonographic findings who are being considered as potential kidney donors.
Staging of renal failure is by GFR, as follows:
Stage 1: GFR above 90 mL/min
Stage 2: GFR 60-90 mL/min
Stage 3: GFR 30-60 mL/min
Stage 4: GFR 15-30 mL/min
Stage 5: GFR below 15 mL/min
Radiologic studies used in the evaluation of ADPKD include the following:
Ultrasonography: Technique of choice for patients with ADPKD and for screening patients' family members; useful for exploring abdominal extrarenal features of ADPKD (eg, liver cysts, pancreatic cysts)
CT scanning: Not routine; useful in doubtful pediatric cases or in complicated cases (eg, kidney stone, suspected tumor)
MRI: Not routine; helpful in distinguishing renal cell carcinoma from simple cysts; criterion standard to help determine renal volume for clinical trials when testing drugs for ADPKD; best imaging tool to monitor kidney size after treatment to assess progress
MRA: Not routine; preferred imaging technique for diagnosing intracranial aneurysms
Ultrasonographic diagnostic criteria for ADPKD1 are as follows :
At least 2 cysts in 1 kidney or 1 cyst in each kidney in an at-risk patient younger than 30 years
At least 2 cysts in each kidney in an at-risk patient aged 30-59 years
At least 4 cysts in each kidney for an at-risk patient aged 60 years or older
Ultrasonographic diagnostic criteria for ADPKD in patients with a family history but unknown genotype are as follows :
Three or more (unilateral or bilateral) renal cysts in patients aged 15-39 years
Two or more cysts in each kidney in patients aged 30-59 years
Fewer than 2 renal cysts in the findings provides a negative predictive value of 100% and can be considered sufficient for ruling out disease in at-risk individuals older than 40 years.
Indications for MRA are as follows[6, 7] :
Family history of stroke or intracranial aneurysms
Development of symptoms suggesting an intracranial aneurysm
Job or hobby in which a loss of consciousness may be lethal
Past history of intracranial aneurysms
See Workup for more detail.
No specific medication is available for ADPKD. However, pharmacotherapy is necessary to accomplish the following:
Control blood pressure: Drugs of choice are ACEIs (eg, captopril, enalapril, lisinopril) or ARBs (eg, valsartan, telmisartan, losartan, irbesartan, candesartan, olmesartan)
Control abnormalities related to renal failure: Drugs to maintain electrolyte levels (eg, calcium carbonate, calcium acetate, sevelamer, lanthanum carbonate, calcitriol [possibly], diuretics, blood pressure medications)
Treat urinary tract infections
Treat cyst infections: Gyrase inhibitors (eg, ciprofloxacin, chloramphenicol, clindamycin, levofloxacin); dihydrofolic acid inhibitors (TMX/SMP)
Treat hematuria: Possibly analgesic plus copious oral hydration
Reduce abdominal pain produced by enlarged kidneys
Prevent cardiac valve infection in patients with intrinsic valve disease
Surgical intervention in ADPKD includes the following:
Surgical drainage: Usually in conjunction with ultrasonographically guided puncture; in cases of infected renal/hepatic cysts not responding to conventional antibiotics
Open-/fiberoptic-guided surgery: For excision/drainage of the outer walls of cysts to ablate symptoms
Nephrectomy: Last resort for pain control in patients with inaccessible cysts in the renal medullae; bilateral nephrectomy in patients with severe hepatic involvement
Partial hepatectomy: To manage massive hepatomegaly
Liver transplantation: In cases of portal hypertension due to polycystic liver or hepatomegaly with nonresectable areas
Patients with ADPKD who progress to end-stage renal disease may require the following procedures:
Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) is one of the most common inherited disorders in humans. It is the most frequent genetic cause of renal failure in adults, accounting for 6-8% of patients on dialysis in the United States.
ADPKD is a multisystemic and progressive disorder characterized by the formation and enlargement of cysts in the kidney (as seen in the image below) and other organs (eg, liver, pancreas, spleen). Clinical features usually begin in the third to fourth decade of life, but cysts may be detectable in childhood and in utero.
Pain—in the abdomen, flank, or back—is the most common initial complaint, and it is almost universally present in patients with ADPKD (see Presentation). Ultrasonography is the diagnostic procedure of choice (see Workup). Medical therapy is needed to control problems such as hypertension, urinary tract infections, hematuria, and pain. Surgical drainage of cysts may be indicated. Patients who progress to end-stage renal disease (ESRD) may require dialysis or renal transplantation (see Treatment).
For a discussion of ADPKD in children, see Pediatric Polycystic Kidney Disease.
The main feature of ADPKD is a bilateral progressive increase in the number of cysts, which may lead to ESRD. Hepatic cysts, cerebral aneurysms, and cardiac valvular abnormalities also may occur.[9, 10]
Although ADPKD is a systemic disease, it shows a focal expression because less than 1% of nephrons become cystic. In ADPKD, each epithelial cell within a renal tubule harbors a germ-line mutation, yet only a tiny fraction of the tubules develop renal cysts.
It is currently held that the cells are protected by the allele inherited from the parent without ADPKD. When this allele is inactivated by a somatic event (mutation or otherwise) within a solitary renal tubule cell, the cell divides repeatedly until a cyst develops, with an aberrant growth program causing endless expansion. The severity of ADPKD is thought to be a direct consequence of the number of times and the frequency with which this cystogenic process occurs within the kidneys over the life of the patient. However this hypothesis is hard to understand in neonatal cases.
The hyperplastic cells cause an out-pocketing of the tubule wall, with the formation of a saccular cyst that fills with fluid derived from glomerular filtrate that enters from the afferent tubule segment. Progressive expansion eventually causes most of the emerging cysts to separate from the parent tubule, leaving an isolated sac that fills with fluid by transepithelial secretion. This isolated cyst expands relentlessly as a result of continued proliferation of the mural epithelium together with the transepithelial secretion of sodium chloride and water into the lumen.
The expanding fluid-filled tumor masses elicit secondary and tertiary changes within the renal interstitium evinced by thickening and lamination of the tubule basement membranes, infiltration of macrophages, and neovascularization. Fibrosis within the interstitium begins early in the course of the disease.
Cellular proliferation and fluid secretion may be accelerated by cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP) and growth factors, such as epidermal growth factor (EGF). In summary, cysts function as autonomous structures and are responsible for progressive kidney enlargement in ADPKD.
Approximately 85-90% of patients with ADPKD have an abnormality on the short arm of chromosome 16 (ie, ADPKD type 1 [ADPKD1]). A second defect, termed ADPKD type 2 (ADPKD2), is responsible for 10-15% of ADPKD cases and is found on the long arm of chromosome 4. A third genotype may exist, but no genomic locus is assigned.
PKD1 and PKD2 are expressed in most organs and tissues of the human body. The proteins that are encoded by PKD1 and PKD2, polycystin 1 and polycystin 2, seem to function together to regulate the morphologic configuration of epithelial cells. The polycystins are expressed in development as early as the blastocyst stage and are expressed in a broad array of terminally differentiated tissues. The functions of the polycystins have been scrutinized to the greatest extent in epithelial tissues of the kidneys and liver and in vascular smooth muscle (see Etiology).
A decrease in urine-concentrating ability is an early manifestation of ADPKD. The cause is not known. Plasma vasopressin levels are increased; this increase may represent the body's attempt to compensate for the reduced concentrating capacity of the kidneys and could contribute to the development of renal cysts, hypertension, and renal insufficiency.
Renal cysts in ADPKD are associated with excessive angiogenesis evinced by fragile vessels stretched across their distended walls. When traumatized, these vessels may leak blood into the cyst, causing it to expand rapidly, resulting in excruciating pain. If bleeding continues, then the cyst may rupture into the collecting system, causing gross hematuria. Alternatively, the cyst may rupture into the subcapsular compartment and eventually dissect through the renal capsule to fill the retroperitoneal space.
ADPKD is a hereditary disorder. The pattern of inheritance is autosomal dominant. Because the disorder occurs equally in males and females, each offspring has a 50% chance of inheriting the responsible mutation and, hence, the disease.
ADPKD is a genetically heterogeneous condition that involves at least 2 genes. PKD1 is located on 16p13.3 and accounts for most ADPKD cases. PKD2 is located on 4q21-q22 and accounts for 15% of ADPKD cases.
Polycystin 1 and 2
PKD1 codes for a 4304–amino acid protein (polycystin 1). The function of polycystin 1 is not yet fully defined, but this protein interacts with polycystin 2 and is involved in cell cycle regulation and intracellular calcium transport. Polycystin 1 localizes in the primary cilia of renal epithelial cells, which function as mechanosensors and chemosensors.
PKD2 codes for a 968–amino acid protein (polycystin 2) that is structurally similar to polycystin 1 and co-localizes to the primary cilia of renal epithelial cells. It is a member of the family of voltage-activated calcium channels.
Polycystin 1 and polycystin 2 are highly conserved ubiquitous transmembrane proteins. In the kidney, they are located in the epithelial cells of the renal tubules—in particular, in the primary cilia at the luminal side of the tubules, as well as in other areas of the renal cell epithelium.
Polycystin 1 is a large protein with a long extracellular N-terminal region, 11 transmembrane domains, and a short intracellular C-terminal tail. Polycystin 2 is structurally related to the transient receptor potential (TRP) channel family, and it is known to function as a nonselective cation channel permeable to Ca2+.
Polycystin 1 and polycystin 2 form heteromeric complexes and colocalize in the primary cilium of renal epithelial cells. The primary cilium is a long, nonmotile tubular structure located in the apical surface of the epithelial cells in the renal tubules. Its function was unknown for a long time. However, studies now indicate that the primary cilium may be a mechanoreceptor that senses changes in apical fluid flow and that transduces them into an intracellular Ca2+ signaling response.
This model involves the participation of polycystin 1 as a mechanical sensor of ciliary bending induced by luminal fluid flow. Bending of the cilium would cause a conformational change in polycystin 1 that would, in turn, activate the polycystin 2–associated Ca2+ channel, increasing the intracellular Ca2+ concentration and triggering intracellular signaling pathways leading to normal kidney development.
A good genotype-phenotype correlation has not been well established for ADPKD1 and ADPKD2.
ADPKD1 is more severe than ADPKD2. The mean age of ESRD for patients with ADPKD1 is 53 years. The mean age of ESRD for patients with ADPKD2 is 74 years.
The genetic heterogeneity of ADKPD, and the possible contribution of modifier genes, may explain the wide clinical variability in this disease, both within and between families.
Worldwide, ADPKD affects approximately 4 to 7 million individuals and accounts for 7-15% of patients on renal replacement therapy. In North America and Europe, ADPKD is responsible for 6-10% of ESRD cases. Approximately one per 800-1000 population carries a mutation for this condition. Approximately 85-90% of patients with ADPKD have ADPKD1; most of the remaining patients have ADPKD2.
ADPKD is slightly more severe in males than in females, but the difference is not statistically significant.
Symptoms generally increase with age. Children very rarely present with renal failure from ADPKD.
The prognosis in patients with ADPKD covers a wide spectrum. Renal failure has been reported in children; conversely, individuals with ADPKD may live a normal lifespan without knowing that they have the disease. More typically, however, ADPKD causes progressive renal dysfunction, resulting in grossly enlarged kidneys and kidney failure by the fourth to sixth decade of life. There is an inverse association between the size of polycystic kidneys and the level of glomerular filtration.[17, 18]
An early study estimated that approximately 70% of patients with ADPKD would develop renal insufficiency if they survived to age 65 years. Currently, half of all patients with ADPKD require renal replacement therapy by age 60 years. Risk factors for progression include the following:
Several episodes of gross hematuria 
Severe and frequent kidney infections
Black racial background 
The presence of more than one risk factor increases the risk of progression to ESRD.
The 2 forms of ADPKD are ADPKD1 and ADPKD2. Although they share similar clinical features, renal prognosis is strikingly different. ADPKD2 is a milder disease, based on the age of onset of ESRD. The median age of renal survival for individuals with ADPKD2 is 68 years, which is significantly older than for those with ADPKD1, in whom the median age of renal survival is 53 years. Although ADPKD2 is milder than ADPKD1, it has an overall impact on survival and shortens life expectancy.
A study of 180 patients with ADPK by Idrizi et al found that recurrent episodes of gross hematuria may increase the risk for more severe renal disease. In the 43 study patients who experienced at least one episode of gross hematuria before age 30 years, renal survival was worse than in the other patients with ADPKD (a 10-year difference in survival). Although 60% of the study patients experienced urinary tract infections (UTIs), appropriate treatment of UTI decreased its frequency and slowed the rate of progression to renal failure.
Cardiovascular pathology and infections account for approximately 90% of deaths of those patients treated by hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis and after renal transplantation.
Another cause of mortality is in ADPKD is subarachnoid hemorrhage from intracranial aneurysms. This complication is rare and severe.
In a retrospective, observational study of 88 patients with ADPKD who died between 1981 and 1999, Rahman et al determined that almost half of the patients died of cardiovascular problems. The median age of death was 60.5 years.
Causes of death included the following:
Cardiovascular problems - 46.6% of patients
Infection - 15.9% of patients, with 42% of these deaths resulting from septicemia
Central nervous system disorders - 11.36% of patients, with 60% of these deaths caused by cerebrovascular events
Uremia - 2.2% of patients
Other, miscellaneous causes - 11.36%
Ensure that patients are aware that this disease is hereditary and that their children have a 50% chance of acquiring the disease. Patients should also understand that although several treatments are being tested, this disease currently has no cure. Only interventions that slow the progression of renal disease (eg, adequate blood pressure control) are of benefit. Hopefully, effective specific therapy will be available in a few years.
Prenatal diagnosis is available through DNA linkage studies, if enough family members cooperate, or through a mutation search. Suggest that family members who are not screened for ADPKD have annual blood pressure checks and urine screenings for hematuria.
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