Detection of humoral rejection in human cardiac allografts by assessing the capillary deposition of complement fragment C4d in endomyocardial biopsies

T M Behr, H E Feucht, K Richter, C Reiter, C H Spes, D Pongratz, P Uberfuhr, B Meiser, K Theisen, C E Angermann
Journal of Heart and Lung Transplantation 1999, 18 (9): 904-12

BACKGROUND: There are no well-established diagnostic criteria to detect humoral rejection in organ transplantation. The value of commonly used markers in immunohistochemistry, such as C1q, C3c, IgG, IgM and fibrinogen, is questioned by some groups. Complement fragment C4d is a more stable marker of complement activation as it is covalently bound to graft capillaries. C4d has been shown to identify clinically relevant, but otherwise undetectable humoral anti-graft reactions in human kidney transplants.

METHODS: Immunohistochemical techniques were used to evaluate 155 endomyocardial biopsies from 56 heart transplant recipients less than 3 months post transplantation for the presence of capillary C4d staining. In a subset of patients, C4d staining was compared with C1q, C3c, IgM and fibrin staining and was correlated with clinical outcome.

RESULTS: Within 3 months 9 of 56 patients died. Five of these nonsurvivors had prominent C4d staining (p < .05), whereas C1q, C3c and IgM showed no correlation with clinical outcome. Presence of fibrin correlated with clinical outcome and C4d staining (p < .05).

CONCLUSIONS: The capillary deposition of complement split product C4d in human endomyocardial biopsies was significantly associated with graft loss. Determination of fibrin deposition may yield additional information to establish a diagnosis of humoral rejection. The immunohistochemical assessment of capillary deposition of C4d and fibrin appears to be an appropriate tool for the identification of patients, who may require additional or alternative immunosuppressive therapy targeted against the humoral immune system.

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