Role of the Skin Biopsy in the Diagnosis of Atypical Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome

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Atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome (aHUS) is a prototypic thrombotic microangiopathy attributable to complement dysregulation. In the absence of complement inhibition, progressive clinical deterioration occurs. The authors postulated that a biopsy of normal skin could corroborate the diagnosis of aHUS through the demonstration of vascular deposits of C5b-9.

Materials and Methods:

Biopsies of normal skin from 22 patients with and without aHUS were processed for routine light microscopy and immunofluorescent studies. An assessment was made for vascular C5b-9 deposition immunohistochemically and by immunofluorescence. The biopsies were obtained primarily from the forearm and/or deltoid.


Patients with classic features of aHUS showed insidious microvascular changes including loose luminal platelet thrombi, except in 2 patients in whom a striking thrombogenic vasculopathy was apparent in biopsied digital ulcers. Extensive microvascular deposits of the membrane attack complex/C5b-9 were identified, excluding 1 patient in whom eculizumab was initiated before biopsy. In 5 of the 7 patients where follow-up was available, the patients exhibited an excellent treatment response to eculizumab. Patients without diagnostic clinical features of aHUS failed to show significant vascular deposits of complement, except 2 patients with thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura including 1 in whom a Factor H mutation was identified.


In a clinical setting where aHUS is an important diagnostic consideration, extensive microvascular deposition of C5b-9 supports the diagnosis of either aHUS or a subset of thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura patients with concomitant complement dysregulation; significant vascular C5b-9 deposition predicts clinical responsiveness to eculizumab.

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