The complex nature of serum C3 and C4 as biomarkers of lupus renal flare

Lupus. 2010 Oct;19(11):1272-80. doi: 10.1177/0961203310371154. Epub 2010 Jul 6.


To assess the relationship between serum C3 or C4 levels and lupus renal flare, C3 and C4 levels were measured bimonthly in 71 lupus nephritis patients for a mean of 35 months, during which time 70 renal flares were identified. Comparing baseline, pre-flare, and at-flare values indicated that neither C3 nor C4 levels decreased pre-flare, but both decreased on average significantly at flare. However, sensitivity/specificity for C3 (75%/71%) and C4 (48%/71%) were low. To account for other influencing factors, multiple regression was performed that included bimonthly values of C-reactive protein (CRP) and erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), and genotype data on C3 (S/F), CRP (1846G > A), and the complement regulator factor H (Y402H). This analysis revealed that reduced levels of C4, but not C3, were independently associated with the two-month pre-flare period. Conversely, reduced levels of C3, but not C4, were independently associated with the flare visit. Significant pro-flare interactions included low C3 levels with the factor H 402HH-encoding genotype, and low CRP levels with the C3 F allele. Together these data suggest that C4 activation is critical for initiating renal flare while C3 activation is involved in the actual tissue damage, and that these effects are influenced by genetic variability in complement activation and regulation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers* / blood
  • Complement C3 / metabolism*
  • Complement C4 / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic* / blood
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic* / complications
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic* / immunology
  • Lupus Nephritis* / blood
  • Lupus Nephritis* / etiology
  • Lupus Nephritis* / immunology
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Sensitivity and Specificity


  • Biomarkers
  • Complement C3
  • Complement C4