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J Am Soc Nephrol. 2002 Jan;13(1):242-51.

Detection of the complement degradation product C4d in renal allografts: diagnostic and therapeutic implications.

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Institute for Pathology, Kantonsspital, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland.


The immunohistochemical detection of the complement degradation product C4d, a component of the classical complement pathway, offers a new and currently poorly defined tool in the evaluation of renal allograft biopsies. Our retrospective study aims at determining the diagnostic and clinical significance of C4d accumulation in kidney transplants, employing immunofluorescence microscopy. We analyzed 398 diagnostic allograft biopsies (n = 265 patients with 1 to 5 biopsies obtained 7 to 7165 d posttransplantation [tx]) and correlated the detection of C4d with 18 histologic changes, panel-reactive antibody titers, response to treatment, and outcome. One hundred twenty-five native kidney and baseline tx biopsies served as controls. Linear deposition of C4d along peritubular capillaries was only found in a subgroup (30%) of allografts post-tx, mainly during the early time-course (median, 38 d post-tx; range, 7 to 5646 d). There was no significant association with infections. C4d staining could change from negative to positive and vice versa within days to weeks. The accumulation of C4d was most tightly linked to a morphologic subtype of rejection, transplant glomerulitis (P < 0.0001). In addition, tubular MHC class II expression was correlated with C4d deposition (P < 0.0001). Both features are signs of "acute active rejection." In comparison with C4d-negative controls, 43% of C4d-positive patients showed increased (>10%) panel-reactive antibody titers (versus 19% in the negative group; P = 0.001). C4d positivity was frequently associated with higher serum creatinine levels at time of biopsy (compared with C4d-negative group; P < 0.01). More C4d-positive patients were treated with polyclonal antithymocyte globulins (ATG) or monoclonal anti-CD3 antibodies (OKT3) (P < 0.0001). Outcome did not significantly differ between C4d-positive and C4d-negative groups. In conclusion, the detection of C4d identifies a humoral alloresponse in a subgroup of kidney transplants, which is often associated with signs of cellular rejection, i.e. tx glomerulitis. Allograft dysfunction in C4d-positive rejection episodes is often more pronounced. We provide first evidence that C4d-positive rejection might benefit from intensive therapy, potentially preventing the previously reported high graft failure rate. In addition, we show that a subgroup of C4d-positive cases may not require any immediate therapeutic intervention. The presence of C4d is clinically relevant and should be reported in the histologic diagnosis.

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