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Kidney Int. 2019 Mar;95(3):655-665. doi: 10.1016/j.kint.2018.09.027. Epub 2019 Jan 14.

Glomerular membrane attack complex is not a reliable marker of ongoing C5 activation in lupus nephritis.

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Centre for Inflammatory Disease, Imperial College London, London, UK.
Ra Pharmaceuticals, Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.
Division of Rheumatology, Department of Medicine, Karolinska Institutet and Rheumatology, Karolinska University Hospital, Stockholm, Sweden.
Centre for Inflammatory Disease, Imperial College London, London, UK. Electronic address:


Complement plays an important role in the pathogenesis of lupus nephritis (LN). With the emergence of therapeutic complement inhibition, there is a need to identify patients in whom complement-driven inflammation is a major cause of kidney injury in LN. Clinical and histopathological data were obtained retrospectively from 57 biopsies with class III, IV, and V LN. Biopsies were stained for complement components C9, C5b-9, C3c, and C3d and for the macrophage marker CD68. C9 and C5b-9 staining were highly correlated (r = 0.92 in the capillary wall). C5b-9 staining was detected in the mesangium and/or capillary wall of both active and chronic proliferative LN in all but one biopsy and in the capillary wall of class V LN in all biopsies. C5b-9 staining intensity in the tubular basement membrane correlated with markers of tubulointerstitial damage, and more intense capillary wall C5b-9 staining was significantly associated with nonresponse to conventional treatment. Glomerular C5b-9 staining intensity did not differ between active and chronic disease; in contrast, C3c and CD68 staining were associated with active disease. Evaluation of serial biopsies and comparison of staining in active and chronic LN demonstrated that C5b-9 staining persisted for months to years. These results suggest that C5b-9 staining is almost always present in LN, resolves slowly, and is not a reliable marker of ongoing glomerular C5 activation. This limits the utility of C5b-9 staining to identify patients who are most likely to benefit from C5 inhibition.


complement; glomerulonephritis; renal pathology; systemic lupus erythematosus

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