What is the pathophysiology of stone formation in nephrolithiasis?

Updated: Sep 16, 2021
  • Author: Chirag N Dave, MD; Chief Editor: Bradley Fields Schwartz, DO, FACS  more...
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Urinary tract stone disease is likely caused by two basic phenomena. The first phenomenon is supersaturation of the urine by stone-forming constituents, including calcium, oxalate, and uric acid. Crystals or foreign bodies can act as nidi, upon which ions from the supersaturated urine form microscopic crystalline structures. The resulting calculi give rise to symptoms when they become impacted within the ureter as they pass toward the urinary bladder.

The overwhelming majority of renal calculi contain calcium. Uric acid calculi and crystals of uric acid, with or without other contaminating ions, comprise the bulk of the remaining minority. Other, less frequent stone types include cystine, ammonium acid urate, xanthine, dihydroxyadenine, and various rare stones related to precipitation of medications in the urinary tract. Supersaturation of the urine is likely the underlying cause of uric and cystine stones, but calcium-based stones (especially calcium oxalate stones) may have a more complex etiology.

The second phenomenon, which is most likely responsible for calcium oxalate stones, is deposition of stone material on a renal papillary calcium phosphate nidus, typically a Randall plaque (which always consists of calcium phosphate). Evan et al proposed this model based on evidence accumulating from several laboratories. [5]

Calcium phosphate precipitates in the basement membrane of the thin loops of Henle, erodes into the interstitium, and then accumulates in the subepithelial space of the renal papilla. The subepithelial deposits, which have long been known as Randall plaques, eventually erode through the papillary urothelium. Stone matrix, calcium phosphate, and calcium oxalate gradually deposit on the substrate to create a urinary calculus.

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