The phenotypes that are associated with the common forms of polycystic kidney disease (PKD) - autosomal dominant (ADPKD) and autosomal recessive (ARPKD) - are highly variable in penetrance. This is in terms of severity of renal disease, which can range from neonatal death to adequate function into old age, characteristics of the liver disease, and other extrarenal manifestations in ADPKD. Influences of the germline mutation are at the genie and allelic levels, but intrafamilial variability indicates that genetic background and environmental factors are also key. In ADPKD, the gene involved, PKD1 or PKD2, is a major factor, with ESRD occurring 20 yr later in PKD2. Mutation position may also be significant, especially in terms of the likelihood of vascular events, with 5′ mutations most detrimental. Variance component analysis in ADPKD populations indicates that genetic modifiers are important, but few such factors (beyond co-inheritance of a TSC2 mutation) have been identified. Hormonal influences, especially associated with more severe liver disease in female individuals, indicate a role for nongenetic factors. In ARPKD, the combination of mutations is critical to the phenotypic outcome. Patients with two truncating mutations have a lethal phenotype, whereas the presence of at least one missense change can be compatible with life, indicating that many missense changes are hypomorphic alleles that generate partially functional protein. Clues from animal models and other forms of PKD highlight potential modifiers. The information that is now available on both genes is of considerable prognostic value with the prospects from the ongoing genetic revolution that additional risk factors will be revealed.
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