Minimal change disease (MCD) is one of the most common causes of idiopathic nephrotic syndrome in children. It accounts for 70% to 90% of children that present with nephrotic syndrome who are older than one year old as opposed to 10-15% of adults who present with nephrotic syndrome. Minimal change disease is distinctive for proteinuria that results in edema and intravascular volume depletion, with good response to steroids. Minimal Change Disease has been labeled “minimal change lesion,” “nil disease,” “lipoid nephrosis (a description of lipid droplets in urine seen on light microscopy). Minimal change disease has a particularly good prognosis in pediatric patients.
Mostly minimal change disease is idiopathic (primary) but can occur secondary to exposure to other agents:
Minimal change disease has an incidence of 2 to 7 new cases per 100,000 children. The exact prevalence is unknown; however, it is estimated to be about 10 to 50 cases per 100,000 children. A male predominance (2 to 1) is noted during childhood, which disappears during the adolescent years. Minimal change disease is not common in adults, and the exact incidence is not known.
Minimal change disease presents with a nephrotic syndrome characterized by an increased renal membrane permeability and loss of protein (primarily albumin) due to damage to the glomerular filtration barrier (GFB). The GFB is composed of fenestrated endothelium (inner layer), the glomerular basement membrane (middle layer), and an outer epithelial layer composed of podocytes. Podocytes are epithelial cells with large cell bodies and long foot processes that run parallel along the outside of glomerular capillaries. The space between foot processes is interspersed by cell-to-cell junctions called slit diaphragms.
Glomerular filtration is both size-specific and charge-specific. The actin cytoskeleton of podocytes provides support to the GBM and regulates flow across the basement membrane depending on hydrostatic pressures, molecular size, and molecular charge. The apical and luminal membrane of the slit diaphragms and podocytes are coated with a sialoglycoprotein (podocalyxin) which contributes to repels negatively charged molecules such as albumin. The two outer layers of the glomerular basement membrane are composed of heparin sulfate proteoglycans that are also negatively charged and contribute to the charge selectivity of the barrier. Disruption of this barrier leads to the proteinuria seen in nephrotic syndrome.
The pathogenesis of MCD is not exactly known, but it is thought to be multifactorial. Several studies have focused on the integrity and biology of podocytes. Because the actin cytoskeleton of podocytes maintains the integrity of the podocytes by supporting the cell body and foot processes regulation of flow across the basement membrane is controlled by a series of interactions. As a result, multiple theories have been proposed to explain the cause of proteinuria in MCD. Some of the proposed theories published include T cell dysfunction/dysregulation that leads to cytokine release and upregulation of proteins, such as CD80 and C-mip that affects the integrity of podocytes, systemic circulating factors that disrupt podocyte function, and B- cell activation (suspected due to the efficacy of anti- CD-20 monoclonal antibodies, such as rituximab).
Light microscopy of renal biopsy specimens from patients with MCD shows minimal to no change; however, electron microscopy reveals the effacement of podocyte foot processes. To add to the conundrum, immunofluorescent staining of biopsy specimens is negative, and no immune complexes are evident.
An accurate history and a thorough physical exam must be performed on each patient who presents with edema and proteinuria. Proteinuria and edema may be presenting symptoms for other conditions such as diabetes mellitus, adverse medication effects, or systemic lupus erythematous. It is also important to consider the patient’s age, family history, and recent illnesses.
Patients with MCD commonly present with periorbital, scrotum, labial, and/or lower extremity edema. On exam, patients may demonstrate anasarca, pericardial or pleural effusion, ascites, and abdominal pain. An affected individual is an intravascularly volume depleted and maybe oliguric, which can lead to acute kidney injury; a finding most frequently noted in adults. Children often present with severe infections (sepsis, pneumonia, and peritonitis) due to the depletion of immunoglobulin. Minimal change disease in adults presents with hematuria, acute kidney injury, and hypertension.
Glomerulonephritis is associated with many diagnoses that are differentiated by histopathology or clinical presentation. To establish the etiology of glomerulonephritis, one must determine whether the patient presents with nephritic or nephrotic syndrome. Nephritic syndrome is associated with hematuria, proteinuria, and hypertension. Nephrotic syndrome is associated with heavy proteinuria, hypoalbuminemia, peripheral edema, hyperlipidemia, and thrombotic disease. The fluid status in patients with nephrotic syndrome alternates between hypovolemia and hypervolemia. Hypovolemic patients may be referred to as "underfilled" due to the loss of albumin through proteinuria. Hypoalbuminemia leads to decreased oncotic pressure and fluid sequestration in the interstitial space. Hypoalbuminemia and low oncotic pressure induce reflexes through the juxtaglomerular apparatus to compensate for intravascular fluid losses by increasing sodium absorption and water retention. Patients with MCD are commonly hypovolemic (underfilled).
Hypervolemia (overfill) associated with nephrotic syndrome is due to tubular dysregulation, which increases sodium absorption and water retention. In these patients, hypoalbuminemia and decreased oncotic pressure are not the cause of edema. Therefore, it is important to understand each patient's volume status before initiating therapy that addresses edema.
In children, MCD is the most common cause of idiopathic nephrotic syndrome. Minimal change disease is the third most common cause for idiopathic nephrotic syndrome in adults after focal segmental glomerular sclerosis and membranous nephropathy. An early kidney biopsy is crucial to making the diagnosis of MCD in adults.
In children, MCD is primarily a clinical diagnosis, and biopsy is only required in the presence of atypical clinical features:
A successful response to steroid might be anticipated in children how to present with typical clinical findings of MCD and are:
Labs to rule out secondary causes:
The initial cornerstone treatment for minimal change disease is steroids. Children frequently achieve remission with steroids within 4 weeks vs. adults who achieve remission in two months or more . The incidence of relapse is high in children and adults.
Children: Initial prednisone therapy is 60 mg/m^2(or 2mg/kg) administered daily for 4-6 weeks (maximum dose, 60 mg/day), or 40 mg/m2/(or 1.5mg/kg) on alternate days for 2-5 months taper. Reduce dose by 5 mg/m2 to 10 mg/m2 each week for another four weeks then stop, with a minimum duration of 12 weeks .
Adults: Initial prednisone treatment is 1mg/kg per day or 2 mg/kg/kg every other day (max 80mg/day or 120 mg every other day) for 4-16 weeks. Taper slowly over a course of 6 months after remission.
Patients who relapse demonstrate:
For frequent relapses/ steroid dependent (steroid- sparing agents):
If intolerant to the above-mentioned drugs, can give:
The differential diagnosis includes:
These diagnoses present with edema secondary to decreased intravascular oncotic pressure.
Minimal change disease has very good prognosis for all ages if there is a response to corticosteroid therapy. The primary morbidity is related to the adverse effects of the medications.
These complications are mainly secondary to the extensive proteinuria that is seen with this disease.
Children and adults with MCD are at risk for developing complications such as:
Patients with acute and active disease should have low sodium in their diet and should also be encouraged to restrict their fluid intake.
Minimal change disease is frequently encountered as the most common cause of nephrotic syndrome in children and it is the third most common cause of nephrotic syndrome in adults. A multidisciplinary team including a nephrologist, pharmacist, and primary care physician (pediatrician or an internist) is essential at optimizing therapy. In children, MCD presents with distinct clinical features. However, in adults, the clinical features may vary. It is important to recognize these clinical and lab findings associated with MCD to tailor and optimize therapy in MCD subgroups.
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