IgG subclass staining in renal biopsies with membranous glomerulonephritis indicates subclass switch during disease progression

Mod Pathol. 2013 Jun;26(6):799-805. doi: 10.1038/modpathol.2012.237. Epub 2013 Jan 18.


Recent breakthrough findings revealed that most patients with idiopathic (primary) membranous glomerulonephritis have IgG4 antibodies to the phospholipase A2 receptor (PLA2R). These IgG4 antibodies can be detected in the glomerular immune complexes and they colocalize with PLA2R. In secondary forms of membranous glomerulonephritis, such IgG4 antibodies are absent or less prevalent. There are no studies addressing the IgG subclass distribution across different stages of membranous glomerulonephritis. During a 25-month period, we identified 157 consecutive biopsies with membranous glomerulonephritis with adequate tissue for light, immunofluorescence and electron microscopy. Of the 157 membranous glomerulonephritis cases, 114 were primary membranous glomerulonephritis and 43 were secondary membranous glomerulonephritis. We compared the intensity of IgG subclass staining (on a semiquantitative scale of 0 to 3+) and the IgG subclass dominance between primary and secondary membranous glomerulonephritis and between the different stages of membranous glomerulonephritis. In primary membranous glomerulonephritis most (76% of cases) were IgG4 dominant. In contrast, in secondary membranous glomerulonephritis IgG1 was dominant in 60% of biopsies (P=0.0018). Interestingly, in early stage (stage 1) primary membranous glomerulonephritis, IgG1 was the dominant IgG subclass (64% of cases); in all later stages IgG4 dominated (P=0.0493). It appears that there is an inverse relationship between the intensity of glomerular capillary IgG4 and C1q staining. In secondary forms of membranous glomerulonephritis (heterogeneous group with low case numbers), we did not find such associations. Our data indicate that in early stage membranous glomerulonephritis, antibody response is different from later stages, with IgG1 dominant deposits. It is possible that early on, antigens other than PLA2R have an important role, Alternately, there may be an IgG subclass switch in the antibody response with IgG4 taking over later as the dominant immunoglobulin.

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Biopsy
  • Complement C1q / analysis
  • Disease Progression
  • Fluorescent Antibody Technique
  • Glomerulonephritis, Membranous / immunology*
  • Glomerulonephritis, Membranous / pathology
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / analysis*
  • Immunoglobulin G / classification
  • Kidney Glomerulus / immunology*
  • Kidney Glomerulus / ultrastructure
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Receptors, Phospholipase A2 / immunology


  • Biomarkers
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Receptors, Phospholipase A2
  • Complement C1q