Rejection of the Renal Allograft in the Absence of Demonstrable Antibody and Complement

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Recent literature has stressed the prominent role of antibodies in graft loss. This study was designed to assess a growing perception that T cell-mediated rejection (TCMR) is no longer clinically relevant.


Five hundred forty-five renal allograft recipients over a 3-year period were screened for biopsies with: (a) TCMR including borderline change (BL), (b) negative complement protein C4 degradation fragment, and (c) absence of donor-specific antibody at time of transplant, within 30 days of the biopsy, and up to 4 measurements at later time points.


These stringent requirements identified 28 “pure” cases of late TCMR/BL. Low-grade glomerulitis, peritubular capillaritis, or chronic transplant glomerulopathy were found in 9/28 (32%) biopsies. Serum creatinine showed complete short-term remission in 7/10 (70%) BL and 9/18 (50%) TCMR patients 1 month postbiopsy. Yet, both treated and untreated patients demonstrated further decline in graft function as assessed by serum creatinine and estimated glomerular filtration rate.


Late TCMR seen in 7.9% of biopsies can contribute to significant deterioration of graft function in patients in whom the dominant contribution of antibody-mediated injury has been reasonably excluded. Our data also reinforce existing literature showing that microvascular lesions do not have absolute specificity for a diagnosis of antibody-mediated rejection.

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