How Useful is Basal Renal Tubular Epithelial Cell Vacuolization as a Marker for Significant Hyperglycemia at Autopsy?


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Roger W. Byard, M.B.B.S., M.D.
Discipline of Pathology
Level 3 Medical School North Building
The University of Adelaide
Frome Road
SA 5005


Abstract:  Basal vacuolization of renal tubular epithelial cells (so-called Armanni–Ebstein phenomenon) has been attributed to hyperglycemia causing accumulation of cytoplasmic glycogen. Review of 34 autopsy cases with significant hyperglycemia (vitreous glucose ≥15 mmol/L/270 mg/dL) was undertaken to determine whether there was any significant association between the degree of hyperglycemia and the severity of this morphological change (graded as 0, 1+, 2+, and 3+). No association was demonstrated. Review of the subgroup of 14 cases with terminal hyperglycemia without ketoacidosis was then undertaken to assess the effect of hyperglycemia in isolation on renal tubular epithelial cells. Vitreous glucose levels in these 14 cases ranged from 17 to 49.7 mmol/L (306–894.6 mg/dL) with a mean of 26.25 mmol/L (472.5 mg/dL) and β-hydroxybutyrate levels ranged from 0.02 to 2.55 mmol/L (0.36–45.9 mg/dL) with a mean 0.79 mmol/L (14.22 mg/dL). Not one of the latter cases displayed basal vacuolization. No relationship between basal vacuolization of renal tubular epithelial cells at autopsy and terminal hyperglycemia could, therefore, be demonstrated.