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N Engl J Med. 1991 May 23;324(21):1457-63.

Membranous nephropathy related to hepatitis B virus in adults.

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Department of Medicine, Prince of Wales Hospital, Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shatin.



The natural course of adult hepatitis B virus (HBV)-related membranous nephropathy in areas where HBV infection is endemic (characterized by vertical and horizontal transmission of HBV in early childhood) has not been fully defined.


We evaluated the clinical features, pathological findings, serologic profiles, therapeutic responses, and prognoses of 21 patients with adult-onset HBV-related membranous nephropathy. The patients were followed for a mean of 60 months (range, 12 to 108). Only patients with evidence of glomerular capillary deposition of hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg) in a renal-biopsy specimen were included.


The clinical features and serologic studies suggested that the patients had acquired chronic HBV infection in early childhood; moreover, other causes of membranous nephropathy had been excluded. All were seropositive for hepatitis B surface antigen and had high titers of antibody to hepatitis B core antigen at first clinical presentation. HBeAg was detected in the serum of 17 patients (81 percent), yet only 3 had even slightly increased plasma alanine aminotransferase levels. The clinical response to therapy with interferon alfa was disappointing; only one of the five patients treated had a complete remission with seroconversion to antibody to HBeAg. Contrary to reports of studies in children, spontaneous remission of the nephrotic syndrome or proteinuria was uncommon in the adults with HBV-related membranous nephropathy whom we studied. Proteinuria and HBV antigenemia persisted in untreated patients. During the follow-up period, 29 percent of the patients had progressive renal failure and 10 percent required maintenance dialysis therapy.


The course of HBV-related membranous nephropathy in adults in areas where HBV is endemic is not benign. Regardless of treatment, the disease has a slowly but relentlessly progressive clinical course in approximately one third of patients.

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