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Current and potential methods to assess kidney structure and morphology in term and preterm neonates.

After birth, the kidney structure in neonates adapt to the functional demands of extrauterine life. Nephrogenesis is complete in the third trimester, but glomeruli, tubuli, and vasculature mature with the rapidly increasing renal blood flow and glomerular filtration. In preterm infants, nephrogenesis remains incomplete and maturation is slower and may be aberrant. This structural and functional deficit has life-long consequences: preterm born individuals are at higher risk for chronic kidney disease and arterial hypertension later in life. This review assembles the literature on existing and potential methods to visualize neonatal kidney structure and morphology and explore their potential to longitudinally document the developmental deviation after preterm birth. X-rays with and without contrast, fluoroscopy and computed tomography (CT) involve relevant ionizing radiation exposure and, apart from CT, do not provide sufficient structural details. Ultrasound has evolved into a safe and noninvasive high-resolution imaging method which is excellent for longitudinal observations. Doppler ultrasound modes can characterize and quantify blood flow to and through the kidneys. Microvascular flow imaging has opened new possibilities of visualizing previously unseen vascular structures. Recent advances in magnetic resonance imaging display renal structure and function in unprecedented detail, but are offset by the logistical challenges of the imaging procedure and limited experience with the new techniques in neonates. Kidney biopsies visualize structure histologically, but are too invasive and remain anecdotal in newborns. All the explored methods have predominantly been examined in term newborns and require further research on longitudinal structural observation in the kidneys of preterm infants.

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