Skip to main content

Cytomegalovirus infection can mimic genetic nephrotic syndrome: a case report



Nephrotic syndrome is a relatively rare but serious condition in children. Infantile nephrotic syndrome often has a genetic origin; the treatment is then symptomatic, with a poor prognosis, and a rapid evolution to chronic kidney disease. However, non-genetic infantile nephrotic syndrome has been identified. Here we report for the first time in a child a nephrotic syndrome as the sole clinical expression of a cytomegalovirus infection.

Case presentation

The patient was 5 months old when he presented with a nephrotic syndrome. An exhaustive genetic testing was conducted and came back negative. A viral work-up only showed a positive cytomegalovirus PCR. Antiviral treatment lead to a complete remission of the nephrotic syndrome, with no requirement for steroid therapy. Renal function remained normal throughout follow-up.


Nephrotic syndrome should always be carefully investigated in children. This observation reinforces the connection between viral infections and pediatric nephrotic syndrome, sparking more controversy about an infectious origin to childhood nephrotic disease.

Peer Review reports


In the first year of life, 66 % of the patients suffering from hypoalbuminemia and severe proteinuria are diagnosed with genetic nephrotic syndrome (GNS) [1]. Many mutations can be responsible for GNS. NPHS1, encoding nephrin, is involved in the Finnish type of GNS [2]; 2 main variants are characterized, Fin-major (p.L41fsX91) which represents 78 % of the described NPHS1 mutations in Finland, and Fin-minor (p.R1109X) [3]. Podocin, a protein which is encoded by the NPHS2 gene, has also been reported in GNS cases. Noteworthy, immunosuppressive treatments are often inefficient; the prognosis of the disease is poor, and renal transplantation is often necessary, usually with no relapse.

However, non-genetic congenital or infantile nephrotic syndromes have been identified. They have to be diagnosed early, since some of them can be treated in a specific manner, and cured [4].

Case presentation

The patient was 5 months old when he presented with acute gastroenteritis; he had no previous medical history, except for 3 episodes of bronchiolitis. He had a twin brother, from a dichorial diamniotic pregnancy; the twin brother was in good health. The parents were Caucasian, and not consanguineous. There was no significant family medical history. Clinically, mild edema was noted on the face and lower limbs. Serum creatinine was normal (35 μmol/l, normal range 25–45 μmol/l), serum urea was also normal (5.4 mmol/l, normal range 4–7 mmol/l). Total serum protein came back low, measured at 35 g/l (normal range 60–75 g/l), and albuminemia was also low, at 10.3 g/l (normal values 35–45 g/l) as shown in Table 1. Proteinuria was elevated, at 5.1 g/l, leading to a proteinuria/creatinuria ratio of 7.83 g/mmol. A renal ultrasound showed a right kidney measured at 65 × 33 × 30 mm, and a left kidney measured at 71 × 35 × 28 mm; the Doppler analysis was normal. Kidney size remained stable throughout follow-up, above average. There was no sign of blockage, no stone, no tumor. A renal biopsy was performed, analyzing 13 glomeruli; it showed a slight mesangial cell hypertrophy with no diffuse mesangial sclerosis; non-specific tubular lesions were present, along with interstitial edema. No viral cytopathic inclusions could be seen. Electron microscopy was not performed. A viral work-up came back negative for hepatitis A, B and C; syphilis and HIV serologies were also negative. A genetic testing showed no mutation in NPHS1, NPHS2 nor WT1 genes. Hip and knee radiographs were normal, eliminating a nail patella syndrome. At this stage, angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitor therapy was initiated; captopril was used, started at 3 mg/d, and increased to 6 mg/d after 15 days. Albumin perfusions were performed initially, at a dose of 1 g/kg/d, each day, for 16 days.

Table 1 Evolution of albuminemia, total serum protein and proteinuria in a patient with cytomegalovirus-induced nephrotic syndrome

Epstein-Barr virus PCR test was negative; cytomegalovirus PCR test was positive, showing more than 123,000 copies/ml. Cerebral imaging showed no significant brain lesion; An EEG was performed and came back normal. Ophthalmoscopy was also normal. Ganciclovir was immediately started and administered for 15 days; it was then switched to valganciclovir for another 15-day period. By the end of the antiviral therapy, proteinuria had decreased to 0.15 g/l; albuminemia and total serum protein levels were back to normal values. Captopril therapy could successfully be discontinued. No relapse had occurred in 30 months.


Here we describe an infantile nephrotic syndrome, in relation with a CMV infection. Interestingly, the nephrotic syndrome resolved when proper antiviral therapy was initiated, supporting a causal relationship between infantile nephrotic syndrome and cytomegalovirus infection. Noteworthy, another case of cytomegalovirus related nephrotic syndrome has been described [5]; but, as opposed to this report, extra-renal symptoms were predominant over the renal presentation. On the contrary, the clinical presentation reported here was misleading, since only a slight digestive symptomatology was in favor of a systemic etiology. This observation reinforces the connection between viral infections and nephrotic syndrome in children [6], sparking more controversy about an infectious origin to childhood nephrotic disease.


Informed consent was obtained from the patient’s parents for publication of this case report.





Genetic nephrotic syndrome


Nephrin gene


Podocin gene


Wilm’s tumor 1 gene


  1. Hinkes BG, Mucha B, Vlangos CN, Gbadegesin R, Liu J, Hasselbacher K, et al. Nephrotic syndrome in the first year of life: two thirds of cases are caused by mutations in 4 genes (NPHS1, NPHS2, WT1, and LAMB2). Pediatrics. 2007;119(4):e907–19.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  2. Kestilä M, Lenkkeri U, Männikkö M, Lamerdin J, McCready P, Putaala H, et al. Positionally cloned gene for a novel glomerular protein--nephrin--is mutated in congenital nephrotic syndrome. Mol Cell. 1998;1(4):575–82.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  3. Lenkkeri U, Männikkö M, McCready P, Lamerdin J, Gribouval O, Niaudet PM, et al. Structure of the gene for congenital nephrotic syndrome of the finnish type (NPHS1) and characterization of mutations. Am J Hum Genet. 1999;64(1):51–61.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  4. Saleem MA. New developments in steroid-resistant nephrotic syndrome. Pediatr Nephrol. 2013;28(5):699–709.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  5. Besbas N, Bayrakci US, Kale G, Cengiz AB, Akcoren Z, Akinci D, et al. Cytomegalovirus-related congenital nephrotic syndrome with diffuse mesangial sclerosis. Pediatr Nephrol. 2006;21(5):740–2.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  6. Dossier C, Sellier-Leclerc A-L, Rousseau A, Michel Y, Gautheret-Dejean A, Englender M, et al. Prevalence of herpesviruses at onset of idiopathic nephrotic syndrome. Pediatr Nephrol. 2014;29(12):2325–31.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references


The authors would like to thank Melanie Thierry, Cecilia Bourdain and Elise Oliver for their help in patient file processing.


No other funding than institutional (CHU Robert Debré).

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to Olivier Niel.

Additional information

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

Authors’ contributions

JH participated in the design and writing of the manuscript. MF performed patient follow-up and participated in writing the manuscript. VB helped with patient follow-up and manuscript drafting. MP performed pathological investigations. GD participated in manuscript writing and data analysis. ON performed manuscript writing, designed the paper and collected data. All authors approved the final version of this manuscript.

Authors’ information

Not applicable

Availability of data and materials

Not applicable.

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Hogan, J., Fila, M., Baudouin, V. et al. Cytomegalovirus infection can mimic genetic nephrotic syndrome: a case report. BMC Nephrol 16, 156 (2015).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Published:

  • DOI:


  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Kidney
  • Nephrotic syndrome
  • Proteinuria