Histopathology of Septic Acute Kidney Injury: A Systematic Review of Experimental Data

Junko Kosaka, Yugeesh R. Lankadeva, Clive N. May, Rinaldo Bellomo

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67 Citations (Scopus)


Objective: The histopathologic changes associated with septic acute kidney injury are poorly understood, in part, because of the lack of biopsy data in humans. Animal models of septic acute kidney injury may help define such changes. Therefore, we performed a systematic review of the histopathologic changes found in modern experimental septic acute kidney injury models. Data Sources: MEDLINE, EMBASE, Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature, and PubMed (from January 2007 to February 2015). Study Selection: We reviewed experimental studies reporting findings on the histopathology of contemporary experimental septic acute kidney injury. Data Extraction: We focused on the presence or the absence of acute tubular necrosis, tubular cell apoptosis, and other nonspecific findings. Data Synthesis: We identified 102 studies in 1,059 animals. Among the 1,059 animals, 53 (5.0%) did not have any renal histopathologic changes, but acute tubular necrosis was found in 184 (17.4%). The prevalence of acute tubular necrosis was not related to animal size or model of sepsis and was only found in models with low cardiac output and decreased renal blood flow (p < 0.0001). Only 21 studies (170 animals) assessed the prevalence of tubular cell apoptosis, which was reported in 158 animals (92.9%). The prevalence of tubular cell apoptosis was significantly higher in studies using small animals (p < 0.0001) and in peritonitis models (p < 0.0001). Simultaneous acute tubular necrosis and tubular cell apoptosis was rare (55 animals [32.4%]) and only seen with decreased cardiac output and renal blood flow. Nonspecific changes (vacuolization of tubular cells, loss of brush border, and tubular cell swelling) were each observed in 423 (39.9%), 250 (23.6%) and 243 (22.9%) animals, respectively. Conclusions: In models of experimental septic acute kidney injury in contemporary articles, acute tubular necrosis was relatively uncommon and, when present, reflected the presence of an associated low cardiac output or low renal blood flow syndrome. Tubular cell apoptosis seemed frequent in the few studies in which it was investigated. Nonspecific morphologic changes, however, were the most common histopathologic findings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)e897-e903
Number of pages7
JournalCritical Care Medicine
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • acute tubular necrosis
  • hemodynamics
  • histopathology
  • renal blood flow
  • septic acute kidney injury
  • tubular cell apoptosis

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