Background: The urinary excretion of N-acetyl-beta-glucosamynidase (NAG) is increased in subjects exposed to substances toxic for renal tubular cells. In experimental and human glomerular diseases, its increased excretion is probably due to the dysfunction of tubular epithelial cells induced by increased traffic of proteins in the tubular lumen. The first aim of this study was to evaluate whether NAG excretion is correlated not only with the amount of proteinuria but also with some proteinuric components which reflect both glomerular capillary wall damage (IgG) and an impairment of tubular reabsorption of microproteins (alpha(1) microglobulin). The second aim was to assess whether NAG excretion has a predictive value on functional outcome and response to therapy.
Methods: In 136 patients with primary glomerulonephritis [74 with idiopathic membranous nephropathy (IMN), 44 with primary focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) and 18 with minimal change disease (MCD)] urinary NAG excretion was measured by a colorimetric method and expressed in units per gram of urinary creatinine.
Results: Using univariate linear regression analysis NAG excretion in all 136 patients was significantly dependent on IgG excretion, 24-h proteinuria, fractional excretion of alpha(1) microglobulin (FE alpha(1)m) and diagnosis. Using multiple linear regression analysis, NAG excretion was significantly dependent only on IgG excretion and 24-h proteinuria. Limiting the analysis to 67 patients with nephrotic syndrome (NS) and baseline normal renal function, by multiple linear regression, NAG excretion was significantly dependent on IgG excretion (P=0.0004), 24-h proteinuria (P=0.0067) and FE alpha(1)-m (P=0.0032) (R(2)=0.63). In 66 patients with NS and normal baseline renal function (MCD 10 patients; FSGS 20 patients; IMN 36 patients), according to values below or above defined cut-offs (IMN, </= or >18 U/g urinary Cr; FSGS and MCD, </= or >24 U/g urinary Cr), NAG excretion predicted remission in 86 vs 27% of IMN patients (P=0.0002) and 77 vs 14% of FSGS patients (P=0.005). Progression to chronic renal failure (CRF) was 0 vs 47% in IMN patients (P=0.001) and 8 vs 57% in FSGS patients (P=0.03). Using Cox model, in IMN patients only NAG excretion (P=0.01, RR 5.8), but not 24-h proteinuria, predicted progression to CRF. All MCD patients had NAG excretion values below the chosen cut-off, and 90% of them developed remission. Response to immunosuppressive therapy was significantly different in patients with NAG excretion values below or above the cut-offs.
Conclusion: Urinary NAG excretion can be considered as a reliable marker of the tubulo-toxicity of proteinuria in the early stage of IMN, FSGS and MCD; the excretion values show a significant relationship with 24-h proteinuria, IgG excretion and FE alpha(1)m. Its determination may be a non-invasive, useful test for the early identification of patients who will subsequently develop CRF or clinical remission and responsiveness to therapy.