Application of electron microscopy to analyze ultrastructural changes of the kidney

Nikolay Bulanov
Sechenov First Moscow State Medical University, Russia

In 1957, American scientists Marilyn Farquhar, Robert Vernier, and Robert Good published the first paper describing the implications of a new technique of electron microscopy to study glomerular pathology (1). They explored ultrastructural changes in the glomeruli of sixteen patients with ‘nephrosis’, seven patients with glomerulonephritis, and three patients with systemic lupus erythematosus. Electron microscopy revealed the effacement of podocyte foot processes in ‘nephrosis,’ and the glomerular basement membrane thickening in glomerulonephritis and lupus nephritis. Since then, electron microscopy is widely employed in clinical practice and has contributed to the discovery of several renal diseases, e.g. fibrillary glomerulonephritis. Today, electron microscopy is considered essential for definite diagnosis of glomerular diseases associated with mutations in type IV collagen genes, minimal change disease, and renal lesions associated with monoclonal gammopathy, etc. This technique reveals changes in cell structure, glomerular basement membrane, and localization of immune deposits that can’t be visualized by light microscopy or immunofluorescence microscopy. However, electron microscopy requires special processing of tissue samples and is therefore relatively expensive, time-consuming, and not universally available in some countries.


  1. Farquhar MG, Vernier RL, Good RA. An electron microscope study of the glomerulus in nephrosis, glomerulonephritis, and lupus erythematosus. J Exp Med. 1957;106(5):649–660.

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