In cystinuria there is a defect in the movement of cystine and the dibasic amino acids (lysine, arginine, and ornithine) across the epithelial cells of the kidneys and the small intestine. In the kidney, most amino acids are filtered by the glomerulus and reabsorbed by the proximal tubules with little residual amino acid in the urine. In cystinuria, cystine and the dibasic amino acids are not reabsorbed by the tubules of the kidney and eventually build up in the urine. Cystine in high concentrations is insoluble in urine and will form stones (calculi) in the kidneys, bladder, and ureters. The transport defect in the small intestine leads to the accumulation of digestion breakdown products of cystine and the dibasic amino acids in the stool, urine, and plasma. The intestinal defect does not appear to result in any adverse symptoms for the affected individual.
Cystinuria has been classified into three types (I, II, and III) based on the urinary excretion of cystine and the dibasic amino acids among carriers of the disease (heterozygotes) and on the nature of the intestinal transport defect among affected individuals (homozygotes).
The name cystine is derived from the Greek word for bladder, kystis. When the disease was first described in the 1800's, it was thought that the origin of the cystine stones was the bladder. Historically, cystinuria is important because it was one of the four inborn errors of metabolism reported by Sir Archibald Garrod in his famous Croonian lectures in 1908. Although alternate names for the disorder include: cistinuria, cystine-lysinuria, cystine-lysine-arginine-ornithinuria and cystinuria dibasic amnioaciduria, the term cystinuria is used most often to describe the disease.
Cystinuria is a complex autosomal recessive disorder. Type I cystinuria is completely recessive; carriers have no manifestations. Types II and III cystinuria are incompletely recessive; carriers can display symptoms. Two amino acid transporter genes, SLC3A1 (solute carrier family 3, member 1) located on chromosome 2p, and SLC7A9 (solute carrier family 7 member 9) located on chromosome 19q are known to cause cystinuria. The proteins produced by these two genes apparently interact with one another. An individual with two mutations in the SLC3A1 gene (homozygote) has type I disease. Mutations in the SLC7A9 gene lead to types II and III cystinuria. Types II and III cystinuria are allelic; different changes (mutations) in the same gene lead to alternative forms of the disease. There are some patients who are genetic compounds, they have a type II mutation on one copy of the gene and a type III mutation on the other copy. There are also individuals who may have mutations in both the SLC3A1 gene and the SLC7A9 gene.
Cystinuria is considered one of the more common genetic disorders with an estimated prevalence of one in 7,000. Most affected individuals have type I disease. Type II disease is relatively rare. Due to a founder effect, an increased incidence of cystinuria exists among individuals of Libyan Jewish ancestry. Approximately one in 2,500 persons of Libyan Jewish descent has type II disease. The carrier frequency in this population is around one in 25.
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms of cystinuria develop due to the high level of cystine in the urine. Since cystine at high concentrations is insoluble in urine, undissolved cystine accumulates in the urine and affected individuals are prone to recurrent urinary tract stone formation (nephrolithiasis). Also, hexagonal-shaped crystals form in the urine; these crystals signify the presence of cystine in potentially stone-forming concentrations. The onset of cystinuria is variable and symptoms can appear anytime between the first year of life and the ninth decade. Most cystinurics develop symptoms in the second and third decades of life. In many affected individuals the first sign of the disorder is renal colic, a painful condition caused by obstruction of the urinary tract. Obstruction of the urinary tract due to calculi can lead to infection and eventually to renal insufficiency. Less often, complaints such as infection, hypertension, and renal failure are the first reasons cystinuric patients seek medical attention.
Unlike most autosomal recessive disorders, carriers for types II and III cystinuria can be symptomatic. Type II carriers have high urinary excretion of cystine and lysine and type II carriers have moderate excretion of cystine, lysine, arginine, and ornithine. Both type II and type III carriers are at-risk to develop stones. Type I carriers have no excess cystine or dibasic amino acids in their urine and are without symptoms of the disorder.
Although there are reports of an association between cystinuria and neurologic abnormalities, little is known about the mechanism responsible for this nor is the prevalence of this complication among affected individuals known.
The diagnosis of cystinuria is made at the biochemical level. Molecular (genetic) testing is also available but is generally not the first means of making a cystinuria
The type (I, II, or II) of cystinuria in an affected patient can be determined by family studies and/or by study of the intestinal transport defect in an affaected individual. Type I obligate carrriers have normal amounts of urinary cystine and dibasic amino acids. Type II carriers have between nine and fifteen times the normal
Testing for mutations in the SLC3A1 gene and the SLC7A9 gene is possible. Over forty mutations in the SLC3A1 gene have been found and almost as many have been detected in the SLC7A9 gene.
The primary goal of treatment of cystinuria is prevention of existing cystine stones through non-invasive means. There are three main categories of treatment: increase cystine solubility, reduce cystine production and excretion, and convert cystine into a more soluble compound. The first step in treatment is to increase cystine solubility via hydration therapy. It is recommended that patients increase their fluid intake such that the concentration of cystine is 200-250 mg/liter of urine. This therapy prevents stone formation approximately two-thirds of the time. Another therapy that increases cystine solubility is known as oral alkalinization. Medications such as sodium citrate, potassium citrate, or sodium bicarbonate increase the pH of urine to levels at which cystine becomes a more soluble compound. To reduce cystine excretion and production, individuals with cystinuria may follow a diet low in sodium and protein.
If the above measures are not successful in preventing stones and/or dissolving existing ones, drug therapy may be necessary. Tiopronin and d-penicillamine are two drugs that are known to bind excess cystine into a form that is more soluble than cystine alone and thus reduce the excessive urinary excretion of this amino acid. Since both tiopronin and d-penicillamine can have adverse side effects, patients on these regimens require follow-up to monitor the efficacy and tolerance of the medication. Other medications that reduce cystine excretion include mercaptopropionylglycine (MPG) and captopril. Although they are not as effective as tiopronin or d-penicillamine, MPG and captopril have fewer side effects.
If stones form despite the above therapeutic regimens, surgical intervention may be required. Surgical management of cystine stones may include dissolution of calculi by irrigation through a catheter, removal of cystine stones by lithotripsy or lithotomy, and renal transplantation. Catheter irrigation is a minimally invasive procedure in which catheters are placed into the ureters and the urinary tract is irrigated with a solution that dissolves the stones over a period of one week to several months. Lithotripsy is a medical procedure used to break a kidney stone into small pieces that can be passed in the urine. In extracorporeal shock wave lithotripsy, a shock wave produced outside the body is used to break up the stone and a catheter placed in the ureter facilitates passage of the stone fragments. In percutaneous nephrolithotripsy, an opening (port) is created by puncturing the kidney through the skin; a specialist then inserts instruments via this opening into the kidney to break up the stone and remove the debris. Lithotomy is the surgical removal of a (kidney) stone.
The prognosis of cystinuria is variable and depends on the level of renal function at the time of diagnosis and initiation of therapy, and the success of preventative measures and surgical management. It is known that males tend to have a more severe course and a higher mortality rate.
Holton, John B. The Inherited Metabolic Diseases. New York, New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1994.
Rimoin, David, et. al. Emery and Rimoin's Principles and Practice of Medical Genetics. New York, New York: Churchill Livingstone, 1997.
Scriver, Charles R., et. al. The Metabolic and Molecular Basis of Inherited Disease. McGraw-Hill, Inc., 1995.
National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD). PO Box 8923, New Fairfield, CT 06812-8923. (203) 746-6518 or (800) 999-6673. Fax: (203) 746-6481. <http://www.rarediseases.org>.
Cystinuria Support Network homepage. <http://www.cystinuria.com/>.
Dawn Cardeiro, MS, CGC