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Urine retinol-binding protein 4: a functional biomarker of the proximal renal tubule.

Measurement of retinol-binding protein 4 in urine (uRBP4) is arguably the most sensitive biomarker for loss of function of the human proximal renal tubule. Megalin- and cubilin-receptor-mediated endocytosis normally absorbs > 99% of the approximately 1.5 g/24 h of protein filtered by the renal glomerulus. When this fails there is "tubular proteinuria," comprising uRBP4, albumin, and many other proteins and peptides. This tubular proteinuria is a consistent feature of the renal Fanconi syndrome (FS) and measurement of uRBP4 appears to be an excellent screening test for FS. FS occurs in rare inherited renal diseases including cystinosis, Dent disease, Lowe syndrome, and autosomal dominant FS. Acquired FS occurs in paraproteinemias, tubulointerstitial renal disease, oncogenic osteomalacia, Chinese herbs nephropathy, and Balkan endemic nephropathy. Though poorly understood, FS may be associated with HIV disease and antiretroviral treatment; cadmium poisoning may cause FS. In addition to FS, uRBP4 measurement has a different role: the early detection of acute kidney injury. Urine RBP4 comprises several isoforms, including intact plasma RBP4, MW 21.07 kDa, and C-terminal truncated forms, des-L- and des-LL-RBP4, also probably plasma derived. In FS, uRBP4 levels are about 104-fold above the upper limit of normal and small increments are frequently seen in carriers of some inherited forms of FS and in acquired disease. The very high levels in disease, frequent assay nonlinearity, lack of defined calibrants, and multiple uRBP4 isoforms make accurate assay challenging; top-down mass spectrometry has brought advances. Assays for uRBP4 with defined molecular targets allowing good interlaboratory comparisons are needed.

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