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Mononuclear cell infiltration is a common histopathological feature of acute renal transplant rejection, in which it seems to play a key role in the pathogenesis of tubulointerstitial lesions. Monocyte chemotactic peptide-1 (MCP-1) is a specific chemotactic and activating factor for monocytes. Thus, the present study was aimed at evaluating MCP-1 gene and protein expression in renal biopsies of kidney transplant recipients with acute deterioration of graft function, and to correlate it with the extent of monocyte infiltration. We studied 20 kidney transplant recipients with acute graft dysfunction (13 with acute rejection, seven with acute tubular damage). MCP-1 gene and protein expression were analyzed by in situ hybridization and immunohistochemistry, respectively. CD68-positive cells were identified as monocytes. CD68-positive cell number and MCP-1 expression were quantified by a computerized image analysis system. MCP-1 gene expression, undetectable in normal human kidneys, was strikingly increased in patients with acute rejection. The chemokine localized mainly to the proximal tubular cells and to mononuclear-infiltrating cells. In patients with acute tubular damage, the MCP-1 expression, even if higher than in controls, was significantly lower than in acute rejection. The expression of the chemokine strictly correlated with the number of infiltrating monocytes (r=0.87, P<0.05). Moreover, we measured MCP-1 urinary excretion by ELISA, in eight normal subjects (36±16 pg/mg urine creatinine), in 13 clinically stable transplant recipients (33±9 pg/mg, ns vs. normal patients), in 12 transplant recipients with acute rejection (250±46 pg/mg, P<0.01 vs. normal patients), and in five transplant recipients with acute tubular damage (97±33 pg/mg, P<0.05 vs. controls and patients with acute rejection). Urinary MCP-1 excretion directly correlated with renal MCP-1 gene expression (r=0.65, P=0.05). Finally, we observed a significant reduction in MCP-1 urine levels in patients with acute rejection, who responded to the antirejection treatment. In conclusion, our data suggest that MCP-1 may play a critical role in modulating monocyte influx and consequent tubulointerstitial damage in acute rejection. Therefore, an increase in urinary MCP-1 excretion may represent an early signal of ongoing acute graft rejection.