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Concept: Lupus nephritis


Lupus nephritis is a common and severe manifestation of systemic lupus erythematosus, and an important cause of both acute kidney injury and end-stage renal disease. Despite its aggressive course, lupus nephritis is amenable to treatment in the majority of patients. The paradigm of immunosuppressive treatment for lupus nephritis has evolved over the past few decades from corticosteroids alone to corticosteroids combined with cyclophosphamide. Sequential treatment regimens using various agents have been formulated for induction and long-term maintenance therapy, and mycophenolate mofetil has emerged as a standard of care option for both induction and maintenance immunosuppressive treatment. The current era has witnessed the emergence of multiple novel therapeutic options, such as calcineurin inhibitors and biologic agents that target key pathogenetic mechanisms of lupus nephritis. Clinical outcomes have improved in parallel with these therapeutic advances. This Review discusses the evidence in support of current standard of care immunosuppressive treatments and emerging therapies, and describes their roles and relative merits in the management of patients with lupus nephritis.

Concepts: Nephrology, Corticosteroid, Systemic lupus erythematosus, Glomerulonephritis, Immunosuppressive drug, Lupus nephritis, Cyclophosphamide, Mycophenolic acid


INTRODUCTION: Among various lupus renal vascular changes, thrombotic microangiopathy (TMA) presented with most severe clinical manifestations and high mortality. The pathogenesis of TMA in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) was complicated. The aim of this study was to assess clinical manifestations, laboratory characteristics, pathological features and risk factors for clinical outcomes of lupus nephritis patients co-existing with renal TMA in a large cohort in China. METHODS: Clinical and renal histopathological data of 148 patients with biopsy-proven lupus nephritis were retrospectively analyzed. Serum complement factor H, ADAMTS-13 activity, antiphospholipid antibodies and C4d deposition on renal vessels were further detected and analyzed. RESULTS: In the 148 patients with lupus nephritis, 36 patients were diagnosed as co-existing with renal TMA based on pathological diagnosis. Among the 36 TMA patients, their clinical diagnoses of renal TMA were as followings: 2 patients combining with thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura-hemolytic uremic syndrome, 2 patients combining with anti-phospholipid syndrome, 2 patients with malignant hypertension, 1 patient with scleroderma and the other 29 patients presenting with isolated renal TMA. Compared with non-renal TMA group, patients with renal TMA had significantly higher urine protein (7.09+/-4.64 vs. 4.75+/-3.13 g/24h, P=0.007) and serum creatinine (159, 86-215 vs. 81, 68-112 mumol/l, P<0.001), higher scores of total activity indices (AI) (P<0.001), endocapillary hypercellularity (P<0.001), subendothelial hyaline deposits (P=0.003), interstitial inflammation (P=0.005), glomerular leukocyte infiltration (P=0.006), total chronicity indices (CI) (P=0.033), tubular atrophy (P=0.004) and interstitial fibrosis (P=0.018). Patients with renal TMA presented with poorer renal outcome (P=0.005) compared with non-TMA group. Renal TMA (hazard ratio (HR): 2.772, 95% confidence interval: 1.009-7.617, P=0.048) was an independent risk factor for renal outcome in patients with lupus nephritis. The renal outcome was poorer for those with both C4d deposition and decreased serum complement factor H in TMA group (P=0.007). CONCLUSIONS: There were various causes of renal TMA in lupus nephritis. Complement over-activation via both classical and alternative pathways might play an important role in the pathogenesis of renal TMA in lupus nephritis.

Concepts: Immune system, Rheumatology, Systemic lupus erythematosus, Glomerulonephritis, Complement system, Thrombocytopenia, Lupus nephritis, Antiphospholipid syndrome


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a prototype autoimmune disease characterized by systemic inflammation and autoantibody production. Anti-MBL autoantibodies have been studied in SLE for their possible effect on MBL levels and functional activity. This study aimed at detection of anti-MBL autoantibodies in Indian SLE patients and evaluates their relationship with related immunological parameters. Two hundred diagnosed SLE patients from Western India were included in the study where 87 patients were lupus nephritis (LN) (43.5 %) and remaining (56.5 %) were non-LN. Disease activity was assessed using the Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Disease Activity Index (SLEDAI). Anti-MBL autoantibodies to IgG and IgM isotypes, anti-C1q autoantibodies, MBL levels and circulating immune complex levels were detected by ELISA. C3, C4 and CRP levels were detected by nephelometer. Anti-MBL autoantibodies were detected in 52 % SLE patients, where 55 % had IgG-anti-MBL, 33.8 % had IgM-anti-MBL and 11.3 % had both subclasses. Low MBL levels were present in 64.4 % anti-MBL positives as compared with 61.5 % in anti-MBL negatives. Among anti-MBL positives, 74 % had anti-C1q antibodies, whereas 41.7 % of anti-MBL negatives had anti-C1q autoantibodies (p = 3.45E06). An inverse correlation was observed between serum MBL and CIC levels. A statistically significant difference was noted between anti-MBL positives and anti-MBL negative patients with hsCRP levels (p = 0.002). Occurrence of infections was higher among anti-MBL positives (65 %) as compared with anti-MBL negatives (35 %). The difference between SLEDAI scores among anti-MBL positive and negative groups was statistically insignificant. Anti-MBL autoantibodies in SLE patients can influence functional activity of MBL and have a significant role in SLE disease pathogenesis.

Concepts: Immune system, Rheumatoid arthritis, Rheumatology, Systemic lupus erythematosus, Lupus erythematosus, Glomerulonephritis, Lupus nephritis, Cyclophosphamide


This study compares the expression levels of tumor necrosis factor ligand superfamily member 4 (TNFSF4) and TNF-R-associated factor 2 (TRAF2) mRNAs in peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) against healthy controls. The association of SLE disease activity index (SLEDAI) and clinical features of SLE with altered expression levels of TNFSF4 and TRAF2 mRNAs were also evaluated.

Concepts: Cell nucleus, Rheumatology, Systemic lupus erythematosus, Lupus erythematosus, Glomerulonephritis, Lupus nephritis, Cyclophosphamide, Antiphospholipid syndrome


Relapses or flares of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) are frequent and observed in 27-66% of patients. SLE flares are defined as an increase in disease activity, in general, requiring alternative treatment or intensification of therapy. A renal flare is indicated by an increase in proteinuria and/or serum creatinine concentration, abnormal urine sediment or a reduction in creatinine clearance rate as a result of active disease. The morbidity associated with renal flares is derived from both the kidney damage due to lupus nephritis and treatment-related toxic effects. Current induction treatment protocols achieve remission in the majority of patients with lupus nephritis; however, few studies focus on treatment interventions for renal flares in these patients. The available data, however, suggest that remission can be induced again in a substantial percentage of patients experiencing a lupus nephritis flare. Lupus nephritis flares are independently associated with an increased risk of deterioration in renal function; prevention of renal flares might, therefore, also decrease long-term morbidity and mortality. Appropriate immunosuppressive maintenance therapy might lead to a decrease in the occurrence of renal and extrarenal flares in patients with SLE, and monitoring for the early detection and treatment of renal flares could improve their outcomes.

Concepts: Nephrology, Renal physiology, Rheumatology, Nephrotic syndrome, Systemic lupus erythematosus, Lupus erythematosus, Glomerulonephritis, Lupus nephritis


Systemic lupus erythematosus is a multisystem autoimmune disease characterized by the formation of autoantibodies that target a variety of self antigens. B cells are fundamental to the development of these antibodies and are a target for intervention in the disease. This review discusses four therapies that target B cells by inducing B-cell depletion, reduction in B-cell proliferation and differentiation, or modulation of B-cell function. Rituximab is an anti-CD20 chimeric monoclonal antibody that depletes B cells but not plasma cells. Systematic reviews of open label studies, particularly in lupus patients refractory to conventional therapy, have suggested that rituximab can be an effective treatment for non-renal lupus and lupus nephritis. However, randomized, double-blind, controlled trials comparing rituximab with placebo in addition to standard of care therapy for non-renal lupus and lupus nephritis over 12 months failed to demonstrate efficacy using the planned primary endpoints, although there were some post-hoc analyses suggesting that rituximab may have beneficial effects that would be worthy of further study as no significant toxicity has been demonstrated. Treatment with belimumab, a humanized monoclonal antibody targeted against B lymphocyte stimulator (BLys), was more efficacious than placebo and had no significant increase in adverse events in two non-renal, phase III lupus trials when given in addition to standard of care therapy for 52 weeks. Belimumab is licensed for the management of lupus in the US and in Europe. Atacicept is a humanized fusion protein that binds BLys and APRIL (a proliferation-inducing ligand) that might be more effective than belimumab in the management of lupus. Unfortunately a phase II/III trial of atacicept in lupus nephritis had to be stopped due to the development of low immunoglobulin levels and pneumonias in some patients. However, in retrospect these complications may have been due to concomitant treatment with mycophenolate mofetil and results of a 52-week, non-renal, phase III trial with atacicept are awaited. Epratuzumab is a humanized monoclonal antibody that targets CD22 on B cells and results in modulation of B-cell function and migration, as CD22 regulates adhesion and inhibits B-cell receptor (BCR) signalling. Epratuzumab at a cumulative dose of 2,400 mg over 4 weeks has been shown to improve lupus disease activity compared with placebo 12 weeks after initiation of therapy in a phase II study, and a 12-month phase III study is on-going. B-cell targeted therapies are an attractive prospect for treating lupus disease and the results of current phase III trials are eagerly awaited. Finding the most appropriate trial design to demonstrate efficacy in lupus trials has been a challenge. The SRI (SLE response index) used in the belimumab studies and the BICLA (British Isles Lupus Assessment Group-based Composite Lupus Assessment) used in the epratuzumab studies are currently the promising trial designs for non-renal studies. For lupus nephritis it is important that trials are of adequate duration to be able to demonstrate benefit of new therapies over conventional therapy.

Concepts: Immune system, Clinical trial, Rheumatoid arthritis, Rheumatology, Systemic lupus erythematosus, Lupus erythematosus, Glomerulonephritis, Lupus nephritis


Systemic lupus erythematosus, characterized by persistent inflammation, is a complex autoimmune disorder with no known cure. Immunosuppressants used in treatment put patients at a higher risk of infections. New knowledge of disease modulators, such as symbiotic bacteria, can enable fine-tuning of parts of the immune system, rather than suppressing it altogether.

Concepts: Immune system, Bacteria, Rheumatoid arthritis, Systemic lupus erythematosus, Lupus erythematosus, Glomerulonephritis, Immunosuppressive drug, Lupus nephritis


Intravenous (IV) cyclophosphamide has been first-line treatment for inducing disease remission in lupus nephritis. The comparative efficacy and toxicity of newer agents such as mycophenolate mofetil (MMF) and calcineurin inhibitors are uncertain.

Concepts: Systemic lupus erythematosus, Immunosuppressive drug, Lupus nephritis, Cyclophosphamide, Mycophenolic acid, Mycophenolate mofetil, Calcineurin


To report the 10-year follow-up of the MAINTAIN Nephritis Trial comparing azathioprine (AZA) and mycophenolate mofetil (MMF) as maintenance therapy of proliferative lupus nephritis, and to test different definitions of early response as predictors of long-term renal outcome.

Concepts: Systemic lupus erythematosus, Lupus nephritis, Immunosuppressants, Mycophenolic acid, Mycophenolate mofetil


Adult tissue-derived mesenchymal stromal cells (MSCs) are showing promise in clinical trials for systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). However, the inability to manufacture large quantities of functional cells from a single donor as well as donor-dependent variability in quality limits their clinical utility. Human embryonic stem cell (hESC)-derived MSCs are an alternative to adult MSCs that can circumvent issues regarding scalability and consistent quality due to their derivation from a renewable starting material. Here, we show that hESC-MSCs prevent the progression of fatal lupus nephritis (LN) in NZB/W F1 (BWF1) mice. Treatment led to statistically significant reductions in proteinuria and serum creatinine and preserved renal architecture. Specifically, hESC-MSC treatment prevented disease-associated interstitial inflammation, protein cast deposition, and infiltration of CD3(+) lymphocytes in the kidneys. This therapy also led to significant reductions in serum levels of tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα) and interleukin 6 (IL-6), two inflammatory cytokines associated with SLE. Mechanistically, in vitro data support these findings, as co-culture of hESC-MSCs with lipopolysaccharide (LPS)-stimulated BWF1 lymphocytes decreased lymphocyte secretion of TNFα and IL-6, and enhanced the percentage of putative regulatory T cells. This study represents an important step in the development of a commercially scalable and efficacious cell therapy for SLE/LN.

Concepts: Cell nucleus, Stem cell, Mesenchymal stem cell, Rheumatology, Nephrotic syndrome, Systemic lupus erythematosus, Glomerulonephritis, Lupus nephritis