Paper - Congenital cystic dilatation of the renal collecting tubules (1951)

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Vermooten V. Congenital cystic dilatation of the renal collecting tubules: A new disease entity. (1951) Yale J Biol Med. 23(6): 450–453. PMID 14836770

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Congenital Cystic Dilatation Of The Renal Collecting Tubules

A New Disgeasee Entity

Vincent Vermooten

From the Department of Urology, Southwestern Medical School, University of Texas, Dallas, Texas.

Received for publication April 18, 1951. DILATATION OF COLLECTING TUBULES 451

Assistant Resident Surgeon, New Haven Hospital, 1925-1927.


In 1943, while I was in the U. S. Army, a young soldier was referred to me because of gross, painless, total hematuria and a peculiarly abnormal excretion urogram. Except for this gross abnormality which looked as though a bunch of grapes were attached to each minor calyx (Fig. la and 1b), no explanation could be found for his hematuria. There was no evidence of calculous disease. There was no pus in his urine. All renal function tests were normal. All blood studies were within normal limits. After retrograde pyelographic study had been repeated twice and excretion urographic studies three times, one could draw no conclusion other than that this man had gross, cystic dilatation of the collecting tubules of both kidneys. It was a condition, which, as far as I could find out, had not yet been described in urological literature.f

In reviewing seven hundred complete urographic studies made in my recent private practice, I found that 236 retrograde pyelograms were made and 464 excretion urograms. Of these, 86 patients had had both excretion and retrograde studies.

In re-examining the urograms carefully, paying particular attention to the minor calyces, it was found that 52 had to be discarded as the visualization was too poor to see clear-cut minor calyces. Of the remaining 648, visualization was sufficiently adequate to get a good picture of most of the minor calyces. In studying these, I was not surprised to find that the collecting tubules could be visualized in 35, or just over five per cent of the total. In eleven, this was just a faint fan-like area of radio density. In thirteen, it was more marked and here one could see a certain degree of beading along the lines which radiated out from the calyx. In the remaining eleven, the visualization of the collecting tubules would be apparent to even the most casual observer. It is apparent, therefore, that the collecting tubules can be visualized in a small percentage of individuals, especially by excretion urography, provided the patient has been adequately prepared for this study. As a rule, visualization is best in the film exposed twenty minutes after the intravenous injection of the radio-opaque medium. This picture must not be confused with Hinman’s “pyelo-venous backflow” which is at times demonstrated during retrograde pyelography.

  • Since preparing this manuscript, I have had a communication from Doctor Wyland Leadbetter, through the Urologists’ Letter Club, reporting that he has seen this lesion five times in the past twelve years. He has also found a report in the J. urol. méd., Par., 1949, 55, 498, by Robert Cacchi and Vincenzo Ricci, entitled “Sur une rare maladie kystique multiple des pyramides rénales le ‘rein en eponge,’” in which the authors report five instances of this lesion. These additional observations confirm my impression that this lesion is not as uncommon as one would be led to believe by the almost complete absence of any reference to it in the literature.

It seems logical to me, therefore, that if an opaque organic iodide can be given intravenously and excreted by the kidney in sufficient concentration that the kidney pelvis, infundibula, and calyces can be sharply outlined, then the visualization of the collecting tubules in only a small percentage of instances would indicate that these tubules are dilated, and that the opaque medium is collecting in them as well as in the larger collecting system. In other words, there may be stasis in these collecting tubules. If that was true, one should expect, in favorable circumstances, that stones will form in these dilated collecting tubules, which will give the picture of “nephrocalcinosis.” In my patient described above with the congenitally dilated, cystic collecting tubules, stones have subsequently formed, and now, eight years later, these are readily visualized on radiographic examination (Fig. 2a and 2b).

If one considers stone formation to be an advanced stage of this lesion, it will appear that the early stage of the lesion is not as uncommon as the near absence of any reference to it in the literature would indicate.

The minimal manifestation of this condition appears as a thin-veiled filling of a minor calyx with a soft brush-like end (Fig. 3). This is sometimes difficult to differentiate from a minor calyx seen in three-quarter view. When the renal collecting tubules are more dilated, one can see a fan-like projection extending out from the minor calyx. Frequently, one can see fine lines radiating out into the kidney, and often they are “beaded,” suggesting the presence of multiple, small, cystic dilatations (Fig. 4a and 4b). These fan-like areas of radio-opacity vary in intensity and extent. Most commonly they are bilateral and not infrequently they involve all the renal pyramids, indicating that it is a generalized process involving most, if not all, the collecting tubules.

Figure 5 shows the lesion so well defined and obvious that it can hardly be missed by even a casual observer of X-rays. The flat plate of the abdomen revealed no evidence of calcification in either kidney area. I am unable to interpret the fan-shaped areas of increased radio opacity in the region of each renal papilla as anything but due to the presence of the excreted opaque iodide in cystic, dilated collecting tubules.

If the X-ray medium is so well concentrated in these collecting tubules that it can be seen in the radiograph, it stands to reason that urine is also well concentrated here. Flocks’ has pointed out that there is considerably more calcium in the urine obtained from a kidney in which there is stasis than in the opposite kidney in which no stasis is present. That being the 452 YALE JOURNAL OF BIOLOGY AND MEDICINE

case, one would expect calculi to form in these cystic, dilated collecting tubules, and, as we all know, they do. It has been a general feeling that stones form in the terminal collecting tubules and dilatation subsequently occurs. That this is possible but not always so is evidenced by the followup on my first patient. Here, calculi became manifest only four or five years after I had discovered this very advanced lesion of cystic dilatation of the renal collecting tubules.’

When once, as a result of stasis, infection sets in or stones form, one would expect that the dilatation will progress more rapidly. That this is the case is particularly well illustrated in a 60-year-old man who had an excretion urogram made as a routine preprostatectomy study. His flat plate revealed a few scattered tubule calculi (Fig. 6), but the excretion urograms showed very extensive pooling of the radio opaque medium in all the pyramids (Fig. 7). It is apparent that these calculi have contributed to a certain extent to the extensive dilatation of the collecting tubules which must have been present before the formation of the calculi, but they cannot possibly account for all the dilatation.

In contrast to this, we see a 54-year-old white male with very extensive nephrocalcinosis without hyperparathyroidism and with a minimum of obviously dilated collecting tubules (Fig 8a and 8b). This patient, who subsequently died from carcinoma of the stomach, also had an extensive, old, chronic pyelonephritis. It is possible that the scarring and contracture secondary to the infection may have prevented the usual pooling of the opaque iodide in these areas.

In the above series of urograms there was one showing several single “cysts” in the collecting tubules in the upper pyramid on the right, but no evidence was seen of cystic dilatation of the other collecting tubules (Fig. 9). There were also five instances in which there was a solitary, localized cystic dilatation of one of the collecting tubules. In three, calculi had formed, and in two no calculi were present. In one instance this lesion was bilateral (Fig. 10a and 10b). These “calyceal diverticula,” as they have been called, are better visualized on excretion urography than by retrograde study— exactly as are the generalized cystic dilatations of the collecting tubules. I feel that these solitary, or multiple, large cysts of the collecting tubules (calyceal diverticula) are a manifestation of the same process that we are discussing. They are in the correct location and they fill and empty exactly as do the cystic, congenitally dilated tubules. That these dilated collecting tubules can be, at least partially, filled on retrograde injection is seen in my patient with this very extensive lesion and no calculi, as well as in the one with the innumerable tubule calculi. Only in rare instances and only when the process is far advanced does this take place, for with the exception of these two cases this was not seen in any other of my 236 retrograde pyelographic studies. Fic. la. (Right kidney) : Excretion urogram showing extensive areas of opaque media given intravenously appearing in what apparently must be considered as cystic areas of dilatation involving all the collecting tubules of both kidneys.

Fig. 1b. (Left kidney) : Excretion urogram showing extensive areas of opaque media given intravenously appearing in what apparently must be considered as cystic areas of dilatation involving all the collecting tubules of both kidneys.

Fig. 2a. (Right kidney): Plain radiograph taken eight years later of the same patient described in Fig. 1, now showing multiple small calculi forming within dilated tubules.

Fig. 2b. (Left kidney) : Plain radiograph taken eight years later of the same patient described in Fig. 1, now showing multiple small calculi forming within dilated tubules. Fic. 3. Excretion urogram on a thirty-six-year-old woman who was seen because of urethral symptoms. There was no infection present. Excretion urogram shows the early lesion of congenital cystic dilatation of the collecting tubules. Note the fan-shaped areas extending out of the calyces with brush-like ends.

Fig. 4a. (Right kidney) : Excretion urogram of a thirty-two-year-old woman who was seen on account of frequency of urination. There was no infection or symptoms referable to the kidney. Routine excretion urogram reveals again fan-like areas of increased density with delicate brush-like ends extending into each pyramid from minor calyx. Note the beading along the radiating lines indicating early cystic dilatation of the collecting tubules.

Fig. 4b. (Left kidney) : Excretion urogram of a thirty-two-year-old woman who was seen on account of frequency of urination. There was no infection or symptoms referable to the kidney. Routine excretion urogram reveals again fan-like areas of increased density with delicate brush-like ends extending into each pyramid from minor calyx. Note the beading along the radiating lines indicating early cystic dilatation of the collecting tubules.

Fig. 5. Extensive areas of radio-opacity extending out from each minor calyx is obvious to the most casual observer. This indicates dilatation of all the collecting tubules involving most of the pyramids. Fic. 6. Scattered small, rounded calcific deposits seen throughout the left renal area of this sixty-year-old patient.

Fig. 7. Excretion urogram made on the patient described in Fig. 6. Note the multiple, cystic, dilated areas involving practically all the collecting tubules. An occasional cyst contains a stone. There are some areas of pooling of the opaque medium involving the entire pyramid. The lesion in this instance is almost as advanced as that shown in Fig. 1. The pyelogram of the right kidney is similar to this one.

Fig. 8a. Plain radiograph of the right kidney of a fifty-four-year-old man. Note the extensive deposition of individual small calculi involving all the pyramids.

Fig. 8b. Excretion urogram made on the patient whose flat plate is shown in Fig. 8a. Notice how the opaque medium is being deposited in all the areas where the calculi are, suggesting that the calculi formed in these cystic areas, for there is no indication that there is any obstruction. Fic. 9. Excretion urogram showing several large solitary cysts in the collecting tubules just outside the upper calyces of the lower kidney. Note also the early fanshaped areas extending out from the calyces of the lower pole of the kidney.

Fig. 10a. Solitary cyst visualized as being attached to the upper minor calyx.

Fig. 10b. Radiograph of the left kidney of the same patient showing small, individual cysts on the collecting tubules. The one attached to the middle calyx system is very well visualized.

Fig. lla. Close-up of a renal pyramid of the specimen shown in Fig. 11b. Great masses of uric acid crystals are seen in the terminal collecting tubules, although it would appear that there is some deposit of uric acid even higher up. Had this individual lived, his pyelogram might have very readily resembled the one shown in Fig. 1. Fic. 11b. Gross photograph of a kidney removed from a fetus near term. Note the massive deposits of uric acid crystals in practically every pyramid. DILATATION OF COLLECTING TUBULES 453


In 1937, shortly after Doctor Alexander Randall published his first paper on the occurrence of calcific plaques upon renal papillae, I had the opportunity of studying over two thousand pairs of kidneys in the Police Medicolegal Laboratories in Johannesburg, South Africa. In this study I frequently found the pelvis of premature or term fetuses full of uric acid crystals which appeared as fine, crystalline sand. Less frequently these fine uric acid crystals were also seen, with a magnifying glass, in the renal pyramids, presumably in the collecting tubules. In no less than three instances I found the renal pyramids solidly packed with great masses of uric acid crystals—the so-called uric acid infarcts (Fig. lla and 11b).

It is well known that uric acid is from ten to twenty times more soluble in urine than in water, and that urine is “formed” (concentrated) in the collecting tubules. It must also be remembered that the kidney is a functioning excretory organ in fetal life. With these facts in mind, one should not be surprised, therefore, to find uric acid crystals in the renal pelves of fullor near-term fetuses, and, at infrequent times, massive “uric acid infarcts.”

After birth, when the kidneys are on their own, it seems reasonable and logical that the uric acid should be dissolved and excreted. It also seems reasonable to assume that a varying degree of permanent damage to the collecting tubules may have resulted, especially secondary to “uric acid infarcts.”

I would, therefore, like to propose a theory that “congenital dilatation of the collecting tubules,” cystic or otherwise, is the end result of the damage done to the collecting tubules by the deposition of uric acid crystals in these tubules during fetal life. The faint, fan-like visualization of the collecting tubules is the minimal lesion, and my first case described in this article the maximal lesion consistent with life. ‘“Calyceal diverticula” appear to be localized lesions of this type, while “nephrocalcinosis” is actually multiple tubule calculi which have formed in these congenitally dilated collecting tubules irrespective of the cause of the hypercalcinuria.


A new disease entity, “congenital dilatation of the renal collecting tubules,” is described.

A theory is offered as to its origin and development.


1 Flocks, R. H.: Calcium and phosphorus excretion in the urine of patients with renal or ureteral calculi. J. Am. M. Ass., 1939, 113, 1466.

2 Vermooten, Vincent: Renal calculi: etiology and differential diagnosis. Texas State J. M., 1951, 47, 96.

Cite this page: Hill, M.A. (2024, June 17) Embryology Paper - Congenital cystic dilatation of the renal collecting tubules (1951). Retrieved from

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