Histopathology of MPGN and C3 glomerulopathies

Nat Rev Nephrol. 2015 Jan;11(1):14-22. doi: 10.1038/nrneph.2014.217. Epub 2014 Dec 2.


'Membranoproliferative' describes glomerular injury characterized by capillary wall thickening and mesangial expansion owing to increased matrix deposition and hypercellularity. The presence of immune deposits is indicative of membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis (MPGN). Historically, MPGN was further classified into three types according to the appearance and site of the electron-dense deposits seen by electron microscopy, but it is now recognized that many cases show only deposition of the complement component C3, owing to abnormal control of the alternative pathway of complement activation-these cases are now classified as C3 glomerulopathies. Not all cases of C3 glomerulopathy, however, show an MPGN pattern. C3 glomerulopathies include dense deposit disease, which shows dense osmiophilic deposits, and C3 glomerulonephritis, which shows isolated deposits. In many cases, the genetic mutations or autoantibodies responsible for C3 deposition have been identified. Some patients in whom complement control is abnormal will accumulate small amounts of immunoglobulin in their glomeruli and so, in everyday practice, the morphological diagnosis of 'glomerulonephritis with dominant C3' is useful for identifying patients who require investigation of the complement pathway. The recognition that many cases of MPGN are C3 glomerulopathies and that the underlying cause can often be identified in immunoglobulin-associated cases means that the diagnosis of idiopathic MPGN is now very uncommon.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Complement C3 / immunology
  • Glomerulonephritis / immunology
  • Glomerulonephritis / pathology
  • Glomerulonephritis, Membranoproliferative / classification
  • Glomerulonephritis, Membranoproliferative / immunology
  • Glomerulonephritis, Membranoproliferative / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Kidney / pathology*


  • Complement C3