Review article| Volume 12, ISSUE 5, P275-280, October 2016

The horseshoe kidney: Surgical anatomy and embryology


      Horseshoe kidneys are a common, yet enigmatic, renal malformation. This review critically appraised the literature surrounding the embryology, etiology and clinical anatomy of horseshoe kidneys. The systematic literature search produced 104 articles, and 56 primary and further secondary references. There were several etiological theories regarding horseshoe kidneys. The established view was that during ascent, the kidneys come into close apposition as they pass through an arterial fork. Another possible mechanism related to lateral flexion of the trunk or rotation of the caudal embryo; the association of asymmetrical horseshoe kidneys with a number of vertebral conditions supported this hypothesis. More recent animal models implicated the notochord and sonic hedgehog signaling. Furthermore, it has been suggested that the isthmus may be the result of ectopic mesenchymal tissue. Surgical anatomy of the horseshoe kidney is complex, due to variability in location, orientation and blood supply. Both arterial and venous anatomy is highly variable. This raised the question of whether anomalous blood supply is the cause or result of abnormal renal position. In the majority of cases, the isthmus contained functional renal parenchyma. In over 90% of cases, fusion between the kidneys occurred at the lower pole. Despite commonly being quoted as ‘held back by the inferior mesenteric artery’ at L3, in reality the isthmus was only found immediately inferior to this in 40% of cases.


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