Background: Recent reports suggest that low birthweight (LBW) is a risk factor for kidney diseases, including focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), although the underlying pathological mechanism remains unknown. Podocyte loss triggers glomerulosclerosis; however, whether FSGS in LBW children is associated with podocytopenia is unclear. Methods: We reviewed the birthweights and gestational age of all patients who underwent renal biopsies from 1995 to 2011 at our Institute. Sixteen patients had FSGS, of which 6 (37.5%) had LBW; this LBW rate was significantly higher than the overall LBW rate in Japan (9.7%). The incidence of LBW was also high in patients with minimal change nephrotic syndrome (MCNS; 12.5%). The glomerular cell numbers in biopsy sections were calculated using computer image analysis and compared with FSGS of normal birthweight (NBW-FSGS). Biopsy specimens from age-matched patients with MCNS were also compared. Wilms' tumor-1 (WT1) immunohistochemistry was performed to enumerate the podocytes. Results: All patients in the LBW-FSGS group were also preterm, with an average gestational age of 25.8 weeks. The number of podocytes per glomerulus in the LBW-FSGS patients was 34 and 24% lower as compared to that in the MCNS patients (p < 0.01) and the NBW-FSGS patients (p < 0.05), respectively. Similar results were observed for the WT1-positive glomerular cell number. Conclusion: LBW and premature birth were associated with FSGS development. The possibility that LBW and premature birth may be predisposing factors for severe podocytopenia in children with FSGS warrants further investigation.
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