A gene mutation, or defect, causes polycystic kidney disease. Genes provide instructions for making proteins in the body. A gene mutation is a permanent change in the deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) sequence that makes up a gene. In most cases of PKD, a person inherits the gene mutation, meaning a parent passes it on in his or her genes. In the remaining cases, the gene mutation develops spontaneously. In spontaneous cases, neither parent carries a copy of the mutated gene.
Researchers have found three different gene mutations associated with PKD. Two of the genes are associated with autosomal dominant PKD. The third gene is associated with autosomal recessive PKD. Gene mutations that cause PKD affect proteins that play a role in kidney development.