Early clinical experience using donor-derived cell-free DNA to detect rejection in kidney transplant recipients

Am J Transplant. 2019 Jun;19(6):1663-1670. doi: 10.1111/ajt.15289. Epub 2019 Mar 29.


Donor-derived cell-free DNA (dd-cfDNA) became Medicare reimbursable in the United States in October 2017 for the detection of rejection in kidney transplant recipients based on results from its pivotal validation trial, but it has not yet been externally validated. We assessed 63 adult kidney transplant recipients with suspicion of rejection with dd-cfDNA and allograft biopsy. Of these, 27 (43%) patients had donor-specific antibodies and 34 (54%) were found to have rejection by biopsy. The percentage of dd-cfDNA was higher among patients with antibody-mediated rejection (ABMR; median 1.35%; interquartile range [IQR]: 1.10%-1.90%) compared to those with no rejection (median 0.38%, IQR: 0.26%-1.10%; P < .001) and cell-mediated rejection (CMR; median: 0.27%, IQR: 0.19%-1.30%; P = .01). The dd-cfDNA test did not discriminate patients with CMR from those without rejection. The area under the ROC curve (AUC) for CMR was 0.42 (95% CI: 0.17-0.66). For ABMR, the AUC was 0.82 (95% CI: 0.71-0.93) and a dd-cfDNA ≥0.74% yielded a sensitivity of 100%, specificity 71.8%, PPV 68.6%, and NPV 100%. The dd-cfDNA test did not discriminate CMR from no rejection among kidney transplant recipients, although performance characteristics were stronger for the discrimination of ABMR.

Keywords: clinical research/practice; kidney transplantation/nephrology; rejection; rejection: acute; rejection: antibody-mediated (ABMR).

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibody Specificity
  • Area Under Curve
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Biopsy
  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids / blood*
  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids / genetics
  • Female
  • Graft Rejection / diagnosis*
  • Graft Rejection / genetics
  • Graft Rejection / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Cellular
  • Isoantibodies / blood
  • Kidney Transplantation / adverse effects*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Reoperation
  • Tissue Donors*
  • Transplantation Immunology
  • United States


  • Biomarkers
  • Cell-Free Nucleic Acids
  • Isoantibodies