Relapse of Nephrotic Syndrome after Adrenocorticotropic Hormone-Induced Remission: Implications of Adrenocorticotropic Hormone Antibodies

Am J Nephrol. 2020;51(5):390-394. doi: 10.1159/000506854. Epub 2020 Mar 18.


Background: Prolonged use of corticosteroids continues to be the mainstay in the management of most proteinuric glomerulopathies, but is limited by extensive side effects. Alternative medications such as adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) have been recently used to treat refractory glomerulopathies and have shown superior outcomes when compared with steroids. However, the clinical responsiveness to ACTH therapy varies considerably with a number of patients exhibiting de novo or acquired resistance. The underlying mechanism remains unknown.

Methods: A patient with steroid-dependent focal segmental glomerulosclerosis (FSGS) developed severe steroid side effects impacting quality of life and was converted to repository porcine ACTH therapy. Immediate response in the form of remission of nephrotic syndrome was noted followed by relapse in 10 weeks. Suspecting the role of some ACTH-antagonizing factors, the patient's serum was examined.

Results: Immunoblot-based antibody assay revealed high titers of de novo IgG antibodies in the patient's serum that were reactive to the porcine corticotropin with negligible cross-reactivity to human corticotropin. In vitro, in cultured B16 melanoma cells that express abundant melanocortin receptors, addition of the patient's serum substantially abrogated the porcine corticotropin triggered signaling activity of the melanocortinergic pathway, marked by phosphorylation of glycogen synthase kinase 3β, thus suggesting a mitigating effect on the biological functionality of porcine corticotropin.

Conclusion: ACTH is a useful alternative therapeutic modality for refractory proteinuric glomerulopathies like FSGS. However, as quintessential therapeutic biologics, natural ACTH, regardless of purity and origin, is inevitably antigenic and may cause the formation of neutralizing antibodies in some sensitive patients, followed by resistance to ACTH therapy. It is imperative to develop ACTH analogues with less immunogenicity for improving its responsiveness in patients with glomerular diseases.

Keywords: Corticotropin; Focal segmental glomerulosclerosis; Neutralizing antibody; Proteinuria.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / analogs & derivatives
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / immunology*
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone / therapeutic use
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Antibodies, Heterophile / blood*
  • Antibodies, Heterophile / immunology
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing / blood*
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing / immunology
  • Biopsy
  • Chronic Disease
  • Drug Resistance
  • Drug Substitution
  • Female
  • Glucocorticoids / pharmacology*
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Kidney / immunology
  • Kidney / pathology
  • Nephrotic Syndrome / blood
  • Nephrotic Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Nephrotic Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Nephrotic Syndrome / immunology
  • Recombinant Proteins / immunology
  • Recombinant Proteins / pharmacology
  • Recombinant Proteins / therapeutic use
  • Recurrence
  • Remission Induction / methods
  • Swine


  • Antibodies, Heterophile
  • Antibodies, Neutralizing
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Adrenocorticotropic Hormone