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International Journal of Nephrology
Volume 2012, Article ID 136942, 13 pages
Review Article

Low Birth Weight due to Intrauterine Growth Restriction and/or Preterm Birth: Effects on Nephron Number and Long-Term Renal Health

1Department of Anatomy and Developmental Biology, Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences, Monash University, Clayton, VIC 3800, Australia
2Neuropharmacology, Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, 75 Commercial Road, Melbourne, VIC 3004, Australia
3Preventative Health, Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute, 75 Commercial Road, Melbourne, VIC 3004, Australia
4Department of Anatomy and Pathology, School of Medicine, James Cook University, Townsville, QLD 4810, Australia

Received 4 May 2012; Revised 23 June 2012; Accepted 2 July 2012

Academic Editor: Umberto Simeoni

Copyright © 2012 Vladislava Zohdi et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Epidemiological studies have clearly demonstrated a strong association between low birth weight and long-term renal disease. A potential mediator of this long-term risk is a reduction in nephron endowment in the low birth weight infant at the beginning of life. Importantly, nephrons are only formed early in life; during normal gestation, nephrogenesis is complete by about 32–36 weeks, with no new nephrons formed after this time during the lifetime of the individual. Hence, given that a loss of a critical number of nephrons is the hallmark of renal disease, an increased severity and acceleration of renal disease is likely when the number of nephrons is already reduced prior to disease onset. Low birth weight can result from intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) or preterm birth; a high proportion of babies born prematurely also exhibit IUGR. In this paper, we describe how IUGR and preterm birth adversely impact on nephrogenesis and how a subsequent reduced nephron endowment at the beginning of life may lead to long-term risk of renal disease, but not necessarily hypertension.