Immune checkpoint inhibitor nephrotoxicity: what do we know and what should we do?

Kidney Int. 2020 Jan;97(1):62-74. doi: 10.1016/j.kint.2019.07.022. Epub 2019 Aug 23.


Immune checkpoint inhibitors have dramatically improved cancer therapy for many patients. These humanized monoclonal antibodies against various immune checkpoints (receptors and ligands) effectively treat a number of malignancies by unleashing the immune system to destroy cancer cells. These drugs are not excreted by the kidneys or liver, have a long half-life, and undergo receptor-mediated clearance. Although these agents have greatly improved the prognosis of many cancers, immune-related end organ injury is a complication that has come to light in clinical practice. Although less common than other organ involvement, kidney lesions resulting in acute kidney injury and/or proteinuria are being described. Acute tubulointerstitial nephritis is the most common lesion seen on kidney biopsy, while acute tubular injury and glomerular lesions occur less commonly. Clinical findings and laboratory tests are suboptimal in predicting the underlying renal lesion, making kidney biopsy necessary in the majority of cases to definitely diagnose the lesion and potentially guide therapy. Immune checkpoint inhibitor discontinuation and corticosteroid therapy are recommended for acute tubulointerstitial nephritis. Based on a handful of cases, re-exposure to these drugs in patients who previously developed acute tubulointerstitial nephritis has been mixed. Although it is unclear whether re-exposure is appropriate, it should perhaps be considered in patients with limited options. When this approach is taken, patients should be closely monitored for recurrence of acute kidney injury. Treatment of cancer in patients with a kidney transplant with immune checkpoint inhibitors risks the development of acute rejection in some patients and requires close surveillance.

Keywords: acute kidney injury; acute tubulointerstitial nephritis; immune-checkpoint inhibitors; immunotherapy; proteinuria.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Kidney Injury / chemically induced
  • Acute Kidney Injury / immunology
  • Acute Kidney Injury / physiopathology
  • Acute Kidney Injury / prevention & control*
  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological / adverse effects*
  • Graft Rejection / chemically induced
  • Graft Rejection / immunology
  • Graft Rejection / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors / adverse effects*
  • Kidney Glomerulus / drug effects
  • Kidney Glomerulus / immunology
  • Kidney Glomerulus / physiopathology
  • Kidney Transplantation / adverse effects
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy
  • Neoplasms / immunology
  • Proteinuria / chemically induced
  • Proteinuria / immunology
  • Proteinuria / physiopathology
  • Proteinuria / prevention & control*


  • Antineoplastic Agents, Immunological
  • Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors