Review Article | Published:

Environmental pollution and kidney diseases

Nature Reviews Nephrology volume 14, pages 313324 (2018) | Download Citation

Abstract

The burden of disease and death attributable to environmental pollution is becoming a public health challenge worldwide, especially in developing countries. The kidney is vulnerable to environmental pollutants because most environmental toxins are concentrated by the kidney during filtration. Given the high mortality and morbidity of kidney disease, environmental risk factors and their effect on kidney disease need to be identified. In this Review, we highlight epidemiological evidence for the association between kidney disease and environmental pollutants, including air pollution, heavy metal pollution and other environmental risk factors. We discuss the potential biological mechanisms that link exposure to environmental pollutants to kidney damage and emphasize the contribution of environmental pollution to kidney disease. Regulatory efforts should be made to control environmental pollution and limit individual exposure to preventable or avoidable environmental risk. Population studies with accurate quantification of environmental exposure in polluted regions, particularly in developing countries, might aid our understanding of the dose–response relationship between pollutants and kidney diseases.

Key points

  • Up to 22% of the global burden of disease and 23% of deaths are attributable to environmental pollution; the general public is inevitably exposed to environmental pollutants

  • The kidney is particularly vulnerable to toxic effects from environmental pollutants owing to its filtration functions; environmental and occupational exposures to pollutants remain common causes of kidney disease worldwide, especially in developing countries

  • Long-term exposure to particulate matter <2.5 μm in mean aerodynamic diameter (PM2.5) is associated with increased risk of membranous nephropathy and more rapid decline in renal function

  • Exposure to heavy metals leads to acute and chronic kidney injury; tubular dysfunction is the most common manifestation of nephrotoxicity from heavy metals

  • Owing to the worldwide distribution of Aristolochia spp. and the still widespread use of medicinal herbal remedies containing aristolochic acids, especially in east Asia, it is possible that aristolochic acids might be the cause of unrecognized nephropathies

  • Exposure to industrial and agricultural chemicals, biogenic toxins and secondhand smoke are additional risk factors for kidney disease

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Acknowledgements

The authors are supported by the National Key Technology Support Program of China (2013BAI09B06 and 2015BAI12B07 to F.F.H.), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (81770683 to X.X.), the National Natural Science Foundation of China (Key Program) (81430016 to F.F.H.), the Major Scientific and Technological Planning Project of Guangzhou (201504010027 to F.F.H.) and the Major International (Regional) Joint Research Project (81620108003 to F.F.H.).

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  1. National Clinical Research Center for Kidney Disease, State Key Laboratory of Organ Failure Research, Nanfang Hospital, Southern Medical University, 1838 North Guangzhou Avenue, Guangzhou 510515, China.

    • Xin Xu
    • , Sheng Nie
    • , Hanying Ding
    •  & Fan Fan Hou

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Contributions

All authors researched data for the article, contributed substantially to discussion of the article's content, wrote the article and reviewed and/or edited the manuscript before submission.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Correspondence to Fan Fan Hou.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nrneph.2018.11