Balkan endemic nephropathy (BEN) has attracted increasing attention as a possible environmental disease, and a significant amount of research from complementary scientific fields has been dedicated to its etiology. There are two actual competing theories attempting to explain the cause of this kidney disease: 1) the mycotoxin hypothesis, which considers that BEN is produced by ochratoxin A ingested intermittently in small amounts by the individuals in the endemic regions, and 2) the Pliocene lignite hypothesis, which proposes that the disease is caused by long-term exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and other toxic organic compounds leaching into the well drinking water from low rank coals underlying or proximal to the endemic settlements. We outline the current developments and future prospects in the study of BEN and differentiate possible factors and cofactors in disease etiology.
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The etiology of Balkan endemic nephropathy: Still more questions than answers