Malformed kidneys in newborn babies could be markers for mental illness and problems with behavior and understanding. This is not as distant a connection as it sounds, as around 10% of the babies born with defects in their kidneys also have changes in the genes linked with neurodevelopmental delay and mental illness. These are known as copy-number variants (CNVs), which are deletions or duplications of stretches of the chromosome.
Around one in 200 babies are born with problems with their kidneys or urinary tracts, and these make up around a quarter of all birth defects. The researchers, from the U.S. and Europe, looked at patients with small or malformed kidneys (renal hypodysplasia) and found that around 17% showed CNVs, with one in 10 linked with developmental delays or mental illness. The research was published in the American Journal of Human Genetics.
Some doctors say that certain children with kidney disease do behave differently, but this was thought to be linked with the stress of a long-term illness. This is the first study to link congenital kidney disease with neurodevelopmental disorders.
"If a physician sees a child with a kidney malformation, that is a warning sign that the child has a genomic disorder that should be looked at immediately because of the risk of neurodevelopmental delay or mental illness later in life," said Ali Gharavi of the Columbia University Medical Center and New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
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