Patterns of complement activation in idiopathic membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis, types I, II, and III

Am J Kidney Dis. 1990 Sep;16(3):196-206. doi: 10.1016/s0272-6386(12)81018-3.


Complement profiles on 22 hypocomplementemic patients with membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis (MPGN) type I, on 11 with MPGN II, and on 16 with MPGN III, gave evidence that the nephritic factor of the amplification loop (NFa) is responsible for the hypocomplementemia in MPGN II and the nephritic factor of the terminal pathway (NFt) for the hypocomplementemia in MPGN III. In contrast, in MPGN I, there was evidence for three complement-activating modalities, NFa, NFt, and immune complexes. As a result, four different patterns of complement activation were seen. NFa, found in MPGN II, produces a complement profile characterized mainly by C3 depression. In addition, four of seven (57%) severely hypocomplementemic MPGN II patients (C3 less than 30 mg/dL) had slightly depressed levels of factor B, and one of seven (14%) of properdin, but in all the C5 concentration was normal. In contrast, all eight severely hypocomplementemic patients with MPGN II had depressed C5 and properdin levels, and six of eight (75%) depressed levels of C6, C7, and/or C9. Of eight MPGN III patients with moderate hypocomplementemia, 50% had depressed C5 and properdin levels and the remainder, depressed C3 only. This spectrum of profiles is most likely produced by varying concentrations of NFt. In MPGN I, nine of 23 (39%) had a profile indicating only classical pathway activation; seven of 23 (39%), a pattern compatible with NFt alone; four of 23 (9%), evidence for both classical pathway activation and NFt; and three of 23 (13%), a pattern compatible with NFa. The unique multifactorial origin of the hypocomplementemia in MPGN I, often giving evidence of classical pathway activation, together with previously reported differences in glomerular morphology and clinical features at onset, makes it distinct from MPGN III. Depressed C8 levels were found to some extent in all hypocomplementemic states. The levels were uncommonly depressed in patients with NFa, most markedly depressed with NFt, and moderately reduced with classical pathway activation. The cause is not known. Diagnostically, profiles showing classical pathway activation and low levels of C6, C7, and/or C9 are specific for MPGN I. Those showing only classical activation are likewise diagnostic of MPGN I if systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and chronic bacteremia are ruled out.

MeSH terms

  • Complement Activation / immunology*
  • Complement C1q / analysis
  • Complement C4 / analysis
  • Complement C5 / analysis
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Glomerulonephritis, Membranoproliferative / classification
  • Glomerulonephritis, Membranoproliferative / immunology*
  • Haplotypes / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / analysis


  • Complement C4
  • Complement C5
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Complement C1q