Flow cytometry based detection of HLA alloantibody mediated classical complement activation

J Immunol Methods. 2003 Apr 1;275(1-2):149-60. doi: 10.1016/s0022-1759(03)00012-7.


Complement-dependent cytotoxicity (CDC) panel reactive antibody (PRA) testing is used to assess recipient presensitization and post-transplant alloantibody formation in transplant recipients. However, CDC test results can be affected by false-positive reactions brought about by autoantibodies or antilymphocyte reagents. As an alternative to the CDC-PRA assay, detection of HLA alloantibodies using HLA antigen-coated microbeads (FlowPRA test) was recently established. FlowPRA testing, however, does not distinguish between (presumably more harmful) complement-fixing and noncomplement-fixing alloantibodies. In this study, we established a novel assay allowing flow cytometric detection of HLA alloantibody dependent classical complement activation using the FlowPRA test. For the detection of complement activation, FlowPRA beads were incubated with sera from highly sensitized dialysis patients (CDC-PRA reactivity >60%) and then stained for C4 (C4d, C4c) and C3 (C3d, C3c) fragments, as well as C1q deposition using indirect immunofluorescence. We demonstrate alloantibody induced induction of C4 fragment, and in parallel C1q deposition to HLA class I or class II beads. As shown by immunoblotting, C4 staining was not due to the presence of preformed C4 fragment-IgG/M complexes. Indeed, C4 fragment deposition in our in vitro system was demonstrated to result from de novo complement activation. First, inactivation of C4 by treatment of sera with methylamine, which inhibits cleavage of the internal thioester, completely abolished C4 fragment deposition. Second, C4 fragment deposition was not observed in the evaluation of C4-free immunoadsorption eluates obtained from highly sensitized dialysis patients. After supplementation with complement, however, eluates induced C4 deposition. Deposition of C4 split products and C1q was temperature-dependent with maximum binding after incubation at 4 degrees C for 60 min. In contrast, maximum C3 fragment deposition was found at 37 degrees C. At this temperature, C3 deposition occurred in an alloantibody and C4-independent fashion, presumably as a result of alternative complement activation. In summary, we describe a novel cell-independent and easy-to-perform PRA test that permits flow cytometry based detection of alloantibody induced classical complement activation. Future studies will have to evaluate its possible relevance as an alternative to CDC-PRA testing in clinical transplantation.

MeSH terms

  • Case-Control Studies
  • Complement C1q / metabolism
  • Complement C3 / metabolism
  • Complement C4 / metabolism
  • Complement Fixation Tests
  • Complement Pathway, Classical*
  • Cytotoxicity Tests, Immunologic
  • Flow Cytometry / methods*
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique, Indirect
  • HLA Antigens / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Immunoblotting
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Kidney Failure, Chronic / immunology
  • Kidney Transplantation / immunology
  • Male
  • Methylamines
  • Microspheres


  • Complement C3
  • Complement C4
  • HLA Antigens
  • Methylamines
  • Complement C1q
  • methylamine