Urinalysis is more specific and urinary neutrophil gelatinase-associated lipocalin is more sensitive for early detection of acute kidney injury

Carrie A Schinstock, Merfake H Semret, Steven J Wagner, Timothy M Borland, Sandra C Bryant, Kianoush B Kashani, Timothy S Larson, John C Lieske
Nephrology, Dialysis, Transplantation 2013, 28 (5): 1175-85

BACKGROUND: Neutrophil gelatinase-associated lipocalin (NGAL) protein is a promising biomarker to detect acute kidney injury (AKI). Earlier detection of AKI could facilitate evaluation of novel therapeutic strategies.

METHODS: Random and 24-h urine samples were prospectively obtained from 125 normal volunteers for analytic validation of a urinary enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay for NGAL. For clinical validation of the test, urine from 363 emergency department patients admitted to the hospital was obtained for NGAL enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and urinalysis and AKI was determined by the use of Acute Kidney Injury Network (AKIN) criteria.

RESULTS: NGAL was stable in urine for 7 days when ambient, 4 °C or frozen (-20 or -70 °C). The assay was linear between 0.24 and 10,000 ng/mL with a limit of quantitation of 0.24 ng/mL. Intra- and inter-assay precision were excellent (coefficient of variation <5%); however, urinary white blood cells were associated with increased NGAL levels. The 95th percentile reference value for NGAL in females is ≤ 65.0 and ≤ 23.4 ng/mL in males. Urinary NGAL levels increased with AKI stage but had only fair sensitivity (65%) and specificity (65%) to differentiate no AKI versus Stages 1, 2 or 3 (area under the curve 0.70). Urinalysis with microscopy was very specific (91%) but not very sensitive (22%) with an area under the curve of 0.57.

CONCLUSIONS: NGAL can be reliably measured in clinical urine samples, although pyuria is an important potential confounder. In our cohort, increased urinary NGAL was associated with AKI by the AKIN criteria; however, the sensitivity and specificity were only fair, in part because patients with pre-renal causes are not excluded by AKIN criteria. Conversely, findings on microscopic urinalysis are very specific for AKI.

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