Background: Congenital nephrotic syndrome of the Finnish type (CNF, NPHS1) is caused by mutations in the NPHS1 gene. NPHS1 codes for nephrin, a cell adhesion protein located at the glomerular slit diaphragm. Renal transplantation is the only treatment option for most patients with NPHS1. We have previously described recurrence of severe proteinuria in grafts transplanted to children with NPHS1. Here we studied the pathophysiology of this proteinuria.
Methods: Clinical data, light and electron microscopic findings as well as the expression of nephrin in the proteinuric grafts were studied. The patients' sera were screened for antibodies against kidney glomerulus and nephrin molecule using indirect immunofluorescence and ELISA.
Results: Fifteen episodes of recurrent nephrotic syndrome occurred in 13 (25%) of 51 grafts transplanted to 45 Finnish children with NPHS1. All nine patients with recurrence had a Fin-major/Fin-major genotype, which leads to absence of nephrin in the native kidney. Rescue therapy (cyclophosphamide) was successful in seven episodes, but six kidneys were lost due to this process. Antibodies reacting against glomerulus were found in eight, and high anti-nephrin antibody levels were detected in four of the nine patients. In electron microscopy, the fusion of the foot process and decreases in the detectable slit diaphragms in the podocyte pores were observed. The expression of nephrin mRNA was markedly reduced in two, and granular staining for nephrin was seen in three of five grafts.
Conclusions: Circulating anti-nephrin antibodies seem to have a pathogenic role in the development of heavy proteinuria in kidney grafts of NPHS1 patients with Fin-major/Fin-major genotype.