Challenges for environmental epidemiology research: Are biomarker concentrations altered by kidney function or urine concentration adjustment?

Virginia M. Weaver, Dennis J. Kotchmar, Jeffrey J. Fadrowski, Ellen K. Silbergeld

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


Biomonitoring has become a standard approach for exposure assessment in occupational and environmental epidemiology. The use of biological effect markers to identify early adverse changes in target organs has also become widely adopted. However, the potential for kidney function to affect biomarker levels in the body and the optimal approach to adjustment of biomarker concentrations in spot urine samples for hydration status are two important but underappreciated challenges associated with biomarker use. Several unexpected findings, such as positive associations between urine nephrotoxicant levels and estimated glomerular filtration rate (eGFR), have been reported recently in research using biomarkers. These and other findings, discussed herein, suggest an impact of kidney glomerular filtration or tubule processing on biomarker levels. This is more commonly raised in the context of decreased kidney filtration, traditionally referred to as reverse causality; however, recent data suggest that populations with normal kidney filtration may be affected as well. Misclassification bias would result if biomarkers reflect kidney function as well as either exposures or early biological effect outcomes. Furthermore, urine biomarker associations with eGFR that differ markedly by approach used to adjust for urine concentration have been reported. Associations between urine measures commonly used for this adjustment, such as urine creatinine, and specific research outcomes could alter observed biomarker associations with outcomes. Research recommendations to address the potential impact of kidney function and hydration status adjustment on biomarkers are provided, including a range of approaches to study design, exposure and outcome assessment, and adjustment for urine concentration.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-8
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


  • biomarkers
  • biomonitoring
  • creatinine
  • glomerular filtration rate (GFR)
  • kidney function
  • reverse causality

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Toxicology
  • Pollution
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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