NELL1 is a target antigen in malignancy-associated membranous nephropathy

Tiffany Caza, Samar Hassen, Zeljko Dvanajscak, Michael Kuperman, Rick Edmondson, Christian Herzog, Aaron Storey, John Arthur, L Nicholas Cossey, Shree Sharma, Daniel Kenan, Christopher Larsen
Kidney International 2020 August 20
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.

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