Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the leading cause of non-A, non-B hepatitis among renal allograft recipients. We sought to identify and describe a proteinuric renal disease occurring in our HCV-infected renal transplant patients. Patients with proteinuria exceeding 1 g/day were identified from a cohort of 98 HCV-infected kidney recipients. Qualitative and quantitative reverse transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) and restriction fragment-length polymorphism of the amplified RT-PCR product was performed to detect circulating HCV RNA, viral titer, and strain type, respectively. An immune complex nephritis (ICN) of the membranoproliferative pattern (MPGN) was found on five of eight biopsies. Two patients infected with the Hutch strain-type developed nephrotic-range proteinuria within three months posttransplant while the remaining three MPGN patients had been transplanted greater than 6 years prior to the onset of proteinuria. Testing for rheumatoid factors, cryoglobulins, hypocomplementemia, and circulating immune complexes failed to show a consistent pattern. Sucrose density gradient (SDG) equilibrium centrifugation was used to determine the buoy ant-density of HCV virions from control (HCV-infected nonproteinuric recipients; n=5) and nephrotic patients (n=5). Whereas HCV virions from the control patients had a low buoyant density on sucrose gradients, a substantial percentage of the circulating HCV RNA from the MPGN patients was present in the high-density fractions in association with IgM and IgG. Treatment of the pooled high-density layers with NP40 followed by recentrifugation resulted in a shift of the HCV RNA to the medium-density layers. In conclusion, MPGN developed in five HCV-infected kidney recipients despite pharmacologic immunosuppression. Both the physicochemical properties of the HCV virions on SDG and their association with IgG and IgM in the high-density layers provide indirect evidence for the presence of circulating complexes of anti-HCV antibody and HCV antigen(s).
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