Health Watch -- Cause for Kidney Disease

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

A seemingly unimportant cell part could hold the key to understanding one of the causes of kidney disease and failure.

The most common cause of kidney failure is polycystic kidney disease -- or PKD. In this disease, fluid-filled cysts form in the kidneys and other organs. These cysts eventually cause kidney failure, and the only way to treat it is with dialysis or a kidney transplant. The disease affects about one in every 500 people.

Now researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas may have found a cause for PKD in a fairly unlikely place. Their research shows that a protein responsible for the development of a seemingly unimportant cell part could play an important role.

Many cells in the body contain cilia, or hairlike projections. In kidney cells, these cilia didn't appear to be important. But UT Southwestern researchers found that without the gene that leads to the formation of cilia in kidney cells, kidneys are more likely to develop cysts.

The researchers studied mice that lacked this gene. They had normal kidneys at birth, but soon cysts like those seen in PKD began to form. Eventually, their kidneys failed.

Researchers now know a new approach to take in studying PKD. By understanding how and why cysts form in kidneys, doctors will be armed with more information on what they can do to slow or stop cyst formation and prevent or treat PKD.