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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Diabetic nephropathy in a sibling and albuminuria predict early GFR decline: a prospective cohort study

Douglas Gunzler1, Anthony J Bleyer2, Robert L Thomas1, Alicia O’Brien1, Gregory B Russell2, Abdus Sattar3, Sudha K Iyengar3, Charles Thomas1, John R Sedor14 and Jeffrey R Schelling1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Medicine, Case Western Reserve University, 2500 MetroHealth Drive, Rammelkamp R415, Cleveland, OH, 44109, USA

2 Department of Medicine, Division on Nephrology, Wake Forest University, Medical Center Blvd, Winston Salem, NC, 27157, USA

3 Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Case Western Reserve University, 2500 MetroHealth Drive, Rammelkamp R415, Cleveland, OH, 44109, USA

4 Department of Physiology and Biophysics, Case Western Reserve University, 2500 MetroHealth Drive, Rammelkamp R415, Cleveland, OH, 44109, USA

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BMC Nephrology 2013, 14:124  doi:10.1186/1471-2369-14-124

Published: 17 June 2013



Diabetic nephropathy is a growing clinical problem, and the cause for >40% of incident ESRD cases. Unfortunately, few modifiable risk factors are known. The objective is to examine if albuminuria and history of diabetic nephropathy (DN) in a sibling are associated with early DN progression or mortality.


In this longitudinal study of adults >18 yrs with diabetes monitored for up to 9 yrs (mean 4.6 ± 1.7 yrs), 435 subjects at high risk (DN family history) and 400 at low risk (diabetes >10 yrs, normoalbuminuria, no DN family history) for DN progression were evaluated for rate of eGFR change using the linear mixed effects model and progression to ESRD. All-cause mortality was evaluated by Kaplan-Meier analyses while controlling for baseline covariates in a Cox proportional hazards model. Covariates included baseline eGFR, age, gender, race, diabetes duration, blood pressure, hemoglobin A1c and urine albumin:creatinine ratio. Propensity score matching was used to identify high and low risk group pairs with balanced covariates. Sensitivity analyses were employed to test for residual confounding.


Mean baseline eGFR was 74 ml/min/1.73 m2 (86% of cohort >60 ml/min/1.73 m2). Thirty high risk and no low risk subjects developed ESRD. eGFR decline was significantly greater in high compared to low risk subjects. After controlling for confounders, change in eGFR remained significantly different between groups, suggesting that DN family history independently regulates GFR progression. Mortality was also significantly greater in high versus low risk subjects, but after controlling for baseline covariates, no significant difference was observed between groups, indicating that factors other than DN family history more strongly affect mortality. Analyses of the matched pairs confirmed change in eGFR and mortality findings. Sensitivity analyses demonstrated that the eGFR results were not due to residual confounding by unmeasured covariates of a moderate effect size in the propensity matching.


Diabetic subjects with albuminuria and family history of DN are vulnerable for early GFR decline, whereas subjects with diabetes for longer than 10 years, normoalbuminuria and negative family history, experience slower eGFR decline, and are extremely unlikely to require dialysis. Although we would not recommend that patients with low risk characteristics be neglected, scarce resources would be more sensibly devoted to vulnerable patients, such as the high risk cases in our study, and preferably prior to the onset of albuminuria or GFR decline.

Albuminuria; CKD; Diabetes; ESRD; Genetics; Progression; Proteinuria