PloS one 2018 04 1013(4) e0193274 doi 10.1371/journal.pone.0193274
Small glomerular IgA deposits have been reported in patients with liver cirrhosis, mainly as an incidental finding in autopsy studies. We recently encountered nine cirrhotic patients who presented with acute proliferative glomerulonephritis with unusually large, exuberant glomerular immune complex deposits, in the absence of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) or monoclonal gammopathy-related kidney disease. Deposits were typically IgA dominant/codominant. Our aim was to further elucidate the etiology, diagnostic pitfalls, and clinical outcomes.
We present clinical features and kidney biopsy findings of nine cirrhotic patients with an unusual acute immune complex glomerulonephritis. We also identified native kidney biopsies from all patients with liver cirrhosis at our institution over a 13-year period (January 2004 to December 2016) to evaluate presence of glomerular IgA deposits in them (n = 118).
Six of nine cirrhotic patients with the large immune deposits had a recent/concurrent acute bacterial infection, prompting a diagnosis of infection-associated glomerulonephritis and treatment with antibiotics. In the remaining three patients, no infection was identified and corticosteroids were initiated. Three of nine patients recovered kidney function (one recovered kidney function after liver transplant); three patients developed chronic kidney disease but remained off dialysis; two patients became dialysis-dependent and one patient developed sepsis and expired shortly after biopsy. Within the total cohort of 118 patients with cirrhosis, 67 others also showed IgA deposits, albeit small; and 42 patients had no IgA deposits.
These cases provide support to the theory that liver dysfunction may compromise clearance of circulating immune complexes, enabling deposition in the kidney. At least in a subset of cirrhotic patients, a superimposed bacterial infection may serve as a "second-hit" and lead to acute glomerulonephritis with exuberant immune complex deposits. Therefore, a trial of antibiotics is recommended and caution is advised before immunosuppressive treatment is offered. Unfortunately, most of these patients have advanced liver failure; therefore both diagnosis and management remain a challenge.