The role of complement in membranous nephropathy

Semin Nephrol. 2013 Nov;33(6):531-42. doi: 10.1016/j.semnephrol.2013.08.004.


Membranous nephropathy (MN) describes a histopathologic pattern of injury marked by glomerular subepithelial immune deposits and collectively represents one of the most common causes of adult nephrotic syndrome. Studies in Heymann nephritis, an experimental model of MN, have established a paradigm in which these deposits locally activate complement to cause podocyte injury, culminating in cytoskeletal reorganization, loss of slit diaphragms, and proteinuria. There is much circumstantial evidence for a prominent role of complement in human MN because C3 and C5b-9 are found consistently within immune deposits. Secondary MN often shows the additional presence of C1q, implicating the classic pathway of complement activation. Primary MN, however, is IgG4-predominant and IgG4 is considered incapable of binding C1q and activating the complement pathway. Recent studies have identified the M-type phospholipase A2 receptor (PLA2R) as the major target antigen in primary MN. Early evidence hints that IgG4 anti-PLA2R autoantibodies can bind mannan-binding lectin and activate the lectin complement pathway. The identification of anti-PLA2R antibodies as likely participants in the pathogenesis of disease will allow focused investigation into the role of complement in MN. Definitive therapy for MN is immunosuppression, although future therapeutic agents that specifically target complement activation may represent an effective temporizing measure to forestall further glomerular injury.

Keywords: IgG4; Membranous nephropathy; PLA(2)R; complement; phospholipase A(2) receptor.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Complement Activation / physiology
  • Complement Pathway, Mannose-Binding Lectin / immunology*
  • Complement System Proteins / immunology*
  • Complement System Proteins / metabolism
  • Glomerulonephritis, Membranous / immunology*
  • Glomerulonephritis, Membranous / pathology
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / metabolism*
  • Kidney Glomerulus / immunology*
  • Kidney Glomerulus / metabolism
  • Kidney Glomerulus / pathology
  • Receptors, Phospholipase A2 / immunology*


  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Receptors, Phospholipase A2
  • Complement System Proteins