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Renal Tubular Acidosis in Infants: the Several Kinds, Including Bicarbonate-Wasting, Classic Renal Tubular Acidosis

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In four infants with renal tubular acidosis (RTA), including three with apparently classic RTA and one with Fanconi syndrome (FS), the physiologic character of the renal acidification defect was investigated. In two of the infants with apparently classic RTA, the acidification defect was physiologically separable from that described in both adult patients and children with classic RTA (type 1 RTA) in the following ways. (a) The fractional excretion of filtered bicarbonate (CHCO3̄/Cln) was not trivial but substantial (6-9%), as well as relatively fixed, over a broad range of plasma bicarbonate concentrations (15-26 mmoles/liter). (b) This value of CHCO3̄/Cln, combined with a normal or near normal glomerular filtration rate, translated to renal bicarbonate wasting (RBW). (c) RBW at normal plasma bicarbonate concentrations was the major cause of acidosis, and its magnitude was the major determinant of corrective alkali therapy (5-9 mEq/kg per day), just as in the patient with FS, who was found to have type 2 (“proximal”) RTA. (d) Persistence of RBW at substantially reduced plasma bicarbonate concentrations, which did not occur in FS, accounted for the spontaneous occurrence of severe acidosis and its rapid recurrence after reduction in alkali therapy. (e) During severe acidosis the urinary pH was >7, a finding reported frequently in infants with apparently classic RTA and “alkali-resistant” acidosis but rarely in adult patients with classic RTA. Continued supplements of potassium were required to maintain normokalemia during sustained correction of acidosis with alkali therapy. Yet, in at least two of the three infants with apparently classic RTA, but in distinction from the patient with FS and other patients with type 2 RTA, fractional excretion of filtered potassium decreased when plasma bicarbonate was experimentally increased to normal values. In one of the two infants with apparently classic RTA and RBW, CHCO3̄/Cln and the therapeutic alkali requirement decreased concomitantly and progressively over 2 yr, but RBW continued. Renal tubular acidosis has persisted in all four patients for at least 3 yr, and in three for 4 years.

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