Background: Diabetic nephropathy is a major global health problem. Progression to renal failure is common; however, the mechanisms are unknown. Experimental models suggest a role for macrophages. Therefore, macrophage accumulation and its relationship to the subsequent clinical course were studied.
Methods: A retrospective study of baseline histology and the subsequent clinical course over at least 5 years involving 20 consecutive patients with a histological and clinical diagnosis of diabetic nephropathy was performed. The relationship between macrophage accumulation in renal biopsy tissue (KP-1/anti-CD68+ cells), baseline measures of known predictors of progression (proteinuria, tubulointerstitial damage, myofibroblast accumulation) and progression over 5 years (plot of reciprocal of serum creatinine) was quantified.
Results: Accumulation of macrophages was apparent in the glomeruli (2.8 + 0.7/gcs vs 1.0 + 0.2 for normals, P = not significant) and interstitium (296.9 + 63.3/mm(2) vs 19.0 + 1.3/mm(2) for normals, P = 0.002) of patients with diabetic nephropathy. Glomerular macrophage number correlated with baseline serum creatinine (r = 0.548, P = 0.012) but not with progression of renal failure as glomerular macrophages were prevalent in early, but not advanced diabetic nephropathy. Interstitial macrophage accumulation correlated strongly with serum creatinine (r = 0.649, P = 0.002), proteinuria (r = 0.779, P < 0.0001), interstitial fibrosis (r = 0.774, P < 0.0001) and inversely with the slope of 1/serum creatinine (r = -0.531, P = 0.023).
Conclusion: Macrophages accumulate within glomeruli and the interstitium in diabetic nephropathy and the intensity of the interstitial infiltrate is proportional to the rate of subsequent decline in renal function. These human data support animal studies that suggest a pathogenic role for the macrophage in diabetic nephropathy.