C3 nephritic factor and mesangiocapillary glomerulonephritis

Pediatr Nephrol. 1997 Feb;11(1):96-8. doi: 10.1007/s004670050241.


The association of a C3 splitting activity, known as C3 nephritic factor (C3NeF), with mesangiocapillary glomerulonephritis (MCGN), especially MCGN type II, has long been known. Several forms of C3NeF are now recognised, the main one being an IgG which acts as an autoantibody binding to factor H, a normally occurring component of the complement system. Complement is in a continuous state of activation with inbuilt checks and controls, and factor H plays a very important part in the controlling mechanisms by preventing the overwhelming activation of complement at the stage of C3 conversion. C3NeF binds to factor H, thus preventing its inhibitory action, and allowing complement activation to proceed with, in vivo, the well-known consequences in MCGN of very low serum levels of C3. The question naturally arose whether C3NeF causes MCGN. Complex relationships between MCGN, C3NeF and partial lipodystrophy, also characterised by C3NeF and hypocomplementaemia, but preceding the development of MCGN, suggest that hypocomplementaemia predisposes to MCGN. Another possibility is that C3NeF acts directly within glomeruli to cause local complement activation and ensuing damage. Neither possibility could be resolved, but some recent observations have restimulated interest in a possible causative role for C3NeF in MCGN. First, factor H deficiency, by mechanisms other than blocking by C3NeF, in animals and man is associated with MCGN. Second, adipocytes, now known themselves to produce complement system proteins, are lysed in vitro by C3NeF, thus suggesting a mechanism for partial lipodystrophy. By analogy, the C3NeF may produce glomerular damage, as glomerular cells produce complement components.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Complement C3 Nephritic Factor / physiology*
  • Glomerulonephritis, Membranoproliferative / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Infant


  • Complement C3 Nephritic Factor