Researchers from the U.K. have linked a compound in citrus fruits, such as grapefruits and nectarines, to the obstruction of kidney cyst formation. The finding could prevent the loss of kidney function, hypertension, and the need for dialysis by eliminating polycystic kidney disease.

"Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease affects between 1 in 10 people on dialysis and 1 in 8 with a kidney transplant,” said Elaine Davies, head of research operations at Kidney Research UK. “Kidney Research UK welcomes this publication that may provide hope for a future new treatment for polycystic kidney disease, alongside its own on-going research focusing on tackling this common genetic kidney disease."

According to the National Kidney Foundation, 600,000 people in the United States are currently suffering from polycystic kidney disease, making it the most common life-threatening genetic disease. If one parent carries the disorder, each child has a 50-50 chance of developing it as well.

By way of a single amoeba, the research team noticed a component of citrus fruits that effectively controls the protein involved in polycystic kidney disease. After identifying the component, known as naringenin, researchers were able to block the formation of cysts by regulating the PKD2 protein.

"This discovery provides an important step forward in understanding how polycystic kidney disease may be controlled," said Professor Robin Williams from the School of Biological Sciences at Royal Holloway. "In the study, we have demonstrated how effective the amoeba Dictyostelium is in the discovery of new treatments and their targets. Having previously applied the same method of testing in our work into epilepsy and bipolar treatments, it is clear that this new approach could help us reduce reliance on animal testing and provide major improvements."

Scientists from Royal Holloway University, St George's, and Kingston University London allowed cysts to grow in a mammalian kidney cell line to test naringenin's efficacy. They noticed the depletion of the PKD2 protein once naringenin was introduced, resulting in the blockage of cyst formation.

"Further investigation is underway to understand the action of naringenin at the molecular level,” said Dr. Mark Carew, from the School of Pharmacy and Chemistry at Kingston University. “This work will entail looking at the function of the PKD2 protein as a cell growth regulator."

Source: Williams R, Carew M, Baines D, Davies E. Component of citrus fruits found to block the formation of kidney cysts. British Journal of Pharmacology. 2013.