Use of the Tissue Common Rejection Module Score in Kidney Transplant as an Objective Measure of Allograft Inflammation

Front Immunol. 2021 Feb 3:11:614343. doi: 10.3389/fimmu.2020.614343. eCollection 2020.


Long-term kidney transplant (KT) allograft outcomes have not improved as expected despite a better understanding of rejection and improved immunosuppression. Previous work had validated a computed rejection score, the tissue common rejection module (tCRM), measured by amplification-based assessment of 11 genes from formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE) biopsy specimens, which allows for quantitative, unbiased assessment of immune injury. We applied tCRM in a prospective trial of 124 KT recipients, and contrasted assessment by tCRM and histology reads from 2 independent pathologists on protocol and cause biopsies post-transplant. Four 10-μm shaves from FFPE biopsy specimens were used for RNA extraction and amplification by qPCR of the 11 tCRM genes, from which the tCRM score was calculated. Biopsy diagnoses of either acute rejection (AR) or borderline rejection (BL) were considered to have inflammation present, while stable biopsies had no inflammation. Of the 77 biopsies that were read by both pathologists, a total of 40 mismatches in the diagnosis were present. The median tCRM scores for AR, BL, and stable diagnoses were 4.87, 1.85, and 1.27, respectively, with an overall significant difference among all histologic groups (Kruskal-Wallis, p < 0.0001). There were significant differences in tCRM scores between pathologists both finding inflammation vs. disagreement (p = 0.003), and both finding inflammation vs. both finding no inflammation (p < 0.001), along with overall significance between all scores (Kruskal-Wallis, p < 0.001). A logistic regression model predicting graft inflammation using various clinical predictor variables and tCRM revealed the tCRM score as the only significant predictor of graft inflammation (OR: 1.90, 95% CI: 1.40-2.68, p < 0.0001). Accurate, quantitative, and unbiased assessment of rejection of the clinical sample is critical. Given the discrepant diagnoses between pathologists on the same samples, individuals could utilize the tCRM score as a tiebreaker in unclear situations. We propose that the tCRM quantitative score can provide unbiased quantification of graft inflammation, and its rapid evaluation by PCR on the FFPE shave can become a critical adjunct to help drive clinical decision making and immunosuppression delivery.

Keywords: acute rejection; biomarkers; formalin-fixed paraffin-embedded (FFPE); graft inflammation; kidney transplant; transcriptomics.

Publication types

  • Controlled Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Allografts / immunology*
  • Biomarkers / metabolism
  • Biopsy
  • Female
  • Graft Rejection / diagnosis*
  • Graft Rejection / genetics
  • Graft Rejection / immunology
  • Graft Rejection / metabolism*
  • Graft Survival / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppression Therapy / methods*
  • Inflammation / genetics
  • Inflammation / metabolism
  • Kidney Transplantation*
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Real-Time Polymerase Chain Reaction
  • Transcriptome / genetics
  • Transplantation, Homologous


  • Biomarkers