Background: Renal relapse in lupus nephritis has been shown to have ominous prognostic significance with the majority of patients progressing to doubling of serum creatinine (CRX2). However, not all patients do so. This report explores the roles of response of inflammation to therapy and of glomerular scarring and interstitial fibrosis and their potential reversal to outcome of renal relapse.
Methods: Renal biopsies from 71 patients with lupus nephritis with an initial biopsy (Bx1) and systematic control biopsy (Bx2) after six months of therapy, as well as subsequent biopsies for clinical indications, were studied. The relationships of morphologic factors to renal relapse and its outcome as well as to CRX2 and end-stage renal disease (ESRD) were analyzed. Cox proportional hazards modeling was used to assess association of morphologic variables with outcomes.
Results: Renal interstitial fibrosis and glomerular segmental scarring were partially reversible in 17 and 11 patients, respectively. This decline was associated with an excellent prognosis, with only one patient in each group (5.9% and 9.1% respectively) progressing to CRX2. All 18 patients who progressed to CRX2 either failed to respond to therapy (7 patients) as defined by normalization of serum creatinine (SCr) and reduction of proteinuria to < or =1 g/day, or relapsed after initial response (11 patients), as defined by recent rise of SCr > 50% and/or proteinuria > 3.5 g/day. However, relapse also occurred in 11 of 47 other patients without progression to CRX2. These patients showed a greater initial response of inflammation and deposits to therapy and fibrous lesions partially reversed in the period prior to relapse, so that active lesions were superimposed on a lower level of chronic lesions. By contrast, chronic lesions mounted steadily in those who progressed to CRX2. Cox proportional hazards modeling indicated a strong association of inflammatory variables with renal relapse, CRX2 and ESRD. However, the extent of immunoglobulin deposits was not significantly associated with any outcome. Finally, we found that failure of disease to remit also is associated with a high rate of CRX2 (64.8% vs. 13.0%, P = 0.00034).
Conclusions: Interstitial fibrosis and glomerular scarring in systemic lupus erythematosus are partially reversible, and this reversal is attended by an excellent outcome. The outcome of renal relapse is determined by the initial response of inflammatory and chronicity elements to therapy, those with prior partial reversal of interstitial and glomerular scarring having a good outcome, and those in whom fibrotic lesions have continued to increase and have a poor outcome. Inflammatory variables appear to be more important in determining outcome than immunoglobulin deposits.