Membranous nephropathy: integrating basic science into improved clinical management

Kidney Int. 2017 Mar;91(3):566-574. doi: 10.1016/j.kint.2016.09.048. Epub 2017 Jan 5.


Idiopathic membranous nephropathy (INM) remains a common cause of the nephrotic syndrome in adults. The autoimmune nature of IMN was clearly delineated in 2009 with the identification of the glomerular-deposited IgG to be a podocyte receptor, phospholipase A2 receptor (PLA2R) in 70% to 75% of cases. This anti-PLA2R autoantibody, predominantly the IgG4 subclass, has been quantitated in serum using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and has been used to aid diagnosis and monitor response to immunosuppressive therapy. In 2014, a second autoantigen, thrombospondin type 1 domain-containing 7A (THSD7A), was identified. Immunostaining of biopsy specimens has further detected either PLA2R or THSD7A antigen in the deposited immune complexes in 5% to 10% of cases autoantibody seronegative at the time of biopsy. Therefore, the term IMN should now be superseded by the term primary or autoimmune MN (AMN) (anti-PLA2R or anti-THSD7A positive) classifying ∼80% to 90% of cases previously designated IMN. Cases of secondary MN associated with other diseases show much lower association with these autoantibodies, but their true incidence in secondary cases still needs to be defined. How knowledge of the autoimmune mechanism and the sequential measurement of these autoantibodies is likely to change the clinical management and trajectory of AMN by more precisely defining its diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment is discussed. Their application early in the disease course to new and old therapies will provide additional precision to AMN management. We also review innovative therapeutic approaches on the horizon that are expected to lead to our ultimate goal of improved patient care in A(I)MN.

Keywords: glomerulonephritis; membranous nephropathy; nephrotic syndrome; proteinuria; renal pathology.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Autoantibodies / blood*
  • Autoimmunity* / drug effects
  • Glomerulonephritis, Membranous / blood
  • Glomerulonephritis, Membranous / diagnosis
  • Glomerulonephritis, Membranous / drug therapy
  • Glomerulonephritis, Membranous / immunology*
  • Humans
  • Immunoglobulin G / blood*
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Kidney Glomerulus / drug effects
  • Kidney Glomerulus / immunology*
  • Kidney Glomerulus / pathology
  • Nephrotic Syndrome / blood
  • Nephrotic Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Nephrotic Syndrome / drug therapy
  • Nephrotic Syndrome / immunology*
  • Receptors, Phospholipase A2 / immunology*
  • Thrombospondins / immunology*


  • Autoantibodies
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Receptors, Phospholipase A2
  • THSD7A protein, human
  • Thrombospondins