Patients with membranous nephropathy have an increased risk of malignancy compared to the general population, but the target antigen for malignancy-associated membranous nephropathy is unknown. To explore this, we utilized mass spectrometry for antigen discovery in malignancy-associated membranous nephropathy examining immune complexes eluted from frozen kidney biopsy tissue using protein G bead immunoglobulin capture. Antigen discovery was performed comparing cases of membranous nephropathy of unknown and known type. Mass spectrophotometric analysis revealed that nerve epidermal growth factor-like 1 (NELL1) immune complexes were uniquely present within the biopsy tissue in membranous nephropathy. Additional NELL1-positive cases were subsequently identified by immunofluorescence. In a consecutive series, 3.8% of PLA2R- and THSD7A-negative cases were NELL1-positive. These NELL1-positive cases had segmental to incomplete IgG capillary loop staining (93.4%) and dominant or co-dominant IgG1-subclass staining (95.5%). The mean age of patients with NELL1-positive membranous nephropathy was 66.8 years, with a slight male predominance (58.2%) and 33% had concurrent malignancy. Compared with PLA2R- and THSD7A-positive cases of membranous nephropathy, there was a greater proportion of cases with malignancies in the NELL1-associated group. Thus, NELL1-associated membranous nephropathy has a unique histopathology characterized by incomplete capillary loop staining, IgG1-predominance, and is more often associated with malignancy than other known types of membranous nephropathy.
Keywords: NELL1; malignancy; malignancy-associated membranous nephropathy; membranous nephropathy; neural epidermal growth factor–like 1; segmental.
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