Kidney lifespan is a patient-oriented outcome that provides much needed context for understanding chronic kidney disease (CKD). Nephron endowment, age-associated decline in nephron number, kidney injury history and the intrinsic capacity of nephrons to adapt to haemodynamic and metabolic overload vary widely within the population. Defining percentiles of kidney function might therefore help to predict individual kidney lifespan and distinguish healthy ageing from progressive forms of CKD. In response to nephron loss, the remaining nephrons undergo functional and structural adaptations to meet the ongoing haemodynamic and metabolic demands of the organism. When these changes are no longer sufficient to maintain kidney cell homeostasis, remnant nephron demise occurs and CKD progression ensues. An individual’s trajectory of glomerular filtration rate and albuminuria reflects the extent of nephron loss and adaptation of the remaining nephrons. Nephron overload represents the final common pathway of CKD progression and is largely independent of upstream disease mechanisms. Thus, interventions that efficiently attenuate nephron overload in early disease stages can protect remnant kidney cells and nephrons, and delay CKD progression. This Review provides a conceptual framework for individualized diagnosis, monitoring and treatment of CKD with the goal of maximizing kidney lifespan.
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