A variety of renal structural and functional abnormalities have been associated with sickle cell disease. To define the relationship between the hemoglobinopathy and glomerular disease, clinicopathologic correlations, renal morphologic, ultrastructural immunohistologic and functional studies were performed on seven patients with clinical and laboratory evidence of glomerular disease. In addition, immunologic studies including isolation and characterization of cryoprecipitable immune complexes, and determination of immunoglobulin, total complement and complement component levels, and antibody titers to several antigens were performed in an attempt to define the etiologic and pathogenic mechanisms of the renal disease and its relationship to sickle cell anemia. Proteinuria was present in all patients. The nephrotic syndrome, hypertension, hematuria and renal insufficiency were found in more than one half the patients. All patients had membranoproliferative glomerulonephritis of varying degree; glomerular basement membrane splitting, electron dense deposits in the glomerulus; interstitial fibrosis, tubular atrophy and hemosiderin deposits were frequent. Immunoglobulin complement components (classic complement pathway) and renal tubular epithelial antigen were distributed in a granular pattern along the glomerular basement membranes of all patients studied by these methods. Cryoprecipitable complexes of renal tubular epithelial antigen-antibody to renal tubular epithelial antigen as well as antibody to renal tubular epithelial antigen were detected in the circulation of some patients. There was no serologic evidence of activation of the alternate complement pathway. These studies demonstrated an immune deposit normocomplementemic nephritis associated with sickle cell anemia; they further support our hypothesis that the relationship is more than coincidental, and is mediated by glomerular deposition of immune complexes of renal tubular epithelial antigen-antibody to renal tubular epithelial antigen, the antigen possibly released after tubular damage secondary to oxygenation and hemodynamic alterations related to sickle cell disease.
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