Molecules great and small: The complement system

Douglas R. Mathern, Peter S. Heeger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

199 Scopus citations


The complement cascade, traditionally considered an effector arm of innate immunity required for host defense against pathogens, is now recognized as a crucial pathogenic mediator of various kidney diseases. Complement components produced by the liver and circulating in the plasma undergo activation through the classical and/or mannose-binding lectin pathways to mediate anti-HLA antibody-initiated kidney transplant rejection and autoantibody-initiated GN, the latter including membranous glomerulopathy, antiglomerular basement membrane disease, and lupus nephritis. Inherited and/or acquired abnormalities of complement regulators, which requisitely limit restraint on alternative pathway complement activation, contribute to the pathogenesis of the C3 nephropathies and atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome. Increasing evidence links complement produced by endothelial cells and/or tubular cells to the pathogenesis of kidney ischemia-reperfusion injury and progressive kidney fibrosis. Data emerging since the mid-2000s additionally show that immune cells, including T cells and antigen-presenting cells, produce alternative pathway complement components during cognate interactions. The subsequent local complement activation yields production of the anaphylatoxins C3a and C5a,which bind to their respective receptors (C3aR and C5aR) on both partners to augment effector T-cell proliferation and survival, while simultaneously inhibiting regulatory T-cell induction and function. This immune cell–derived complement enhances pathogenic alloreactive T-cell immunity that results in transplant rejection and likely contributes to the pathogenesis of other T cell–mediated kidney diseases. C5a/C5aR ligations on neutrophils have additionally been shown to contribute to vascular inflammation in models of ANCA-mediated renal vasculitis. New translational immunology efforts along with the development of pharmacologic agents that block human complement components and receptors nowpermit testing of the intriguing concept that targeting complement in patientswith an assortment of kidney diseases has the potential to abrogate disease progression and improve patient health.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1636-1650
Number of pages15
JournalClinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology
Issue number9
StatePublished - 4 Sep 2015


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