A new article by Robert Chevalier offers a broad-ranging view of how evolutionary medicine can help to understand the epidemic of chronic kidney disease. It is open access for a limited time. Chevalier, R. L. (2019). Evolution, kidney development, and chronic kidney disease. Seminars in Cell & Developmental Biology, 91, 119–131. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.semcdb.2018.05.024

Abstract: There is a global epidemic of chronic kidney disease (CKD) characterized by a progressive loss of nephrons, ascribed in large part to a rising incidence of hypertension, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes mellitus. There is a ten-fold variation in nephron number at birth in the general population, and a 50% overall decrease in nephron number in the last decades of life. The vicious cycle of nephron loss stimulating hypertrophy by remaining nephrons and resulting in glomerulosclerosis has been regarded as maladaptive, and only partially responsive to angiotensin inhibition. Advances over the past century in kidney physiology, genetics, and development have elucidated many aspects of nephron formation, structure and function. Parallel advances have been achieved in evolutionary biology, with the emergence of evolutionary medicine, a discipline that promises to provide new insight into the treatment of chronic disease.

This review provides a framework for understanding the origins of contemporary developmental nephrology, and recent progress in evolutionary biology. The establishment of evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo), ecological developmental biology (eco-devo), and developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD) followed the discovery of the hox gene family, the recognition of the contribution of cumulative environmental stressors to the changing phenotype over the life cycle, and mechanisms of epigenetic regulation. The maturation of evolutionary medicine has contributed to new investigative approaches to cardiovascular disease, cancer, and infectious disease, and promises the same for CKD. By incorporating these principles, developmental nephrology is ideally positioned to answer important questions regarding the fate of nephrons from embryo through senescence.