Minnie Sarwal and colleagues developed a gene expression assay using peripheral blood samples to detect patients with renal transplant at high risk for acute rejection.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Development of noninvasive molecular assays to improve disease diagnosis and patient monitoring is a critical need. In renal transplantation, acute rejection (AR) increases the risk for chronic graft injury and failure. Noninvasive diagnostic assays to improve current late and nonspecific diagnosis of rejection are needed. We sought to develop a test using a simple blood gene expression assay to detect patients at high risk for AR.
Methods and Findings
We developed a novel correlation-based algorithm by step-wise analysis of gene expression data in 558 blood samples from 436 renal transplant patients collected across eight transplant centers in the US, Mexico, and Spain between 5 February 2005 and 15 December 2012 in the Assessment of Acute Rejection in Renal Transplantation (AART) study. Gene expression was assessed by quantitative real-time PCR (QPCR) in one center. A 17-gene set—the Kidney Solid Organ Response Test (kSORT)—was selected in 143 samples for AR classification using discriminant analysis (area under the receiver operating characteristic curve [AUC] = 0.94; 95% CI 0.91–0.98), validated in 124 independent samples (AUC = 0.95; 95% CI 0.88–1.0) and evaluated for AR prediction in 191 serial samples, where it predicted AR up to 3 mo prior to detection by the current gold standard (biopsy). A novel reference-based algorithm (using 13 12-gene models) was developed in 100 independent samples to provide a numerical AR risk score, to classify patients as high risk versus low risk for AR. kSORT was able to detect AR in blood independent of age, time post-transplantation, and sample source without additional data normalization; AUC = 0.93 (95% CI 0.86–0.99). Further validation of kSORT is planned in prospective clinical observational and interventional trials.
The kSORT blood QPCR assay is a noninvasive tool to detect high risk of AR of renal transplants.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Throughout life, the kidneys filter waste products (from the normal breakdown of tissues and food) and excess water from the blood to make urine. If the kidneys stop working for any reason, the rate at which the blood is filtered decreases, and dangerous amounts of creatinine and other waste products build up in the blood. The kidneys can fail suddenly (acute kidney failure) because of injury or poisoning, but usually failing kidneys stop working gradually over many years (chronic kidney disease). Chronic kidney disease is very common, especially in people who have high blood pressure or diabetes and in elderly people. In the UK, for example, about 20% of people aged 65–74 years have some degree of chronic kidney disease. People whose kidneys fail completely (end-stage kidney disease) need regular dialysis (hemodialysis, in which blood is filtered by an external machine, or peritoneal dialysis, which uses blood vessels in the abdominal lining to do the work of the kidneys) or a renal transplant (the surgical transfer of a healthy kidney from another person into the patient's body) to keep them alive.
Why Was This Study Done?
Our immune system protects us from pathogens (disease-causing organisms) by recognizing specific molecules (antigens) on the invader's surface as foreign and initiating a sequence of events that kills the invader. Unfortunately, the immune system sometimes recognizes kidney transplants as foreign and triggers transplant rejection. The chances of rejection can be minimized by “matching” the antigens on the donated kidney to those on the tissues of the kidney recipient and by giving the recipient immunosuppressive drugs. However, acute rejection (rejection during the first year after transplantation) affects about 20% of kidney transplants. Acute rejection needs to be detected quickly and treated with a short course of more powerful immunosuppressants because it increases the risk of transplant failure. The current “gold standard” method for detecting acute rejection if the level of creatinine in the patient's blood begins to rise is to surgically remove a small piece (biopsy) of the transplanted kidney for analysis. However, other conditions can change creatinine levels, acute rejection can occur without creatinine levels changing (subclinical acute rejection), and biopsies are invasive. Here, the researchers develop a noninvasive test for acute kidney rejection called the Kidney Solid Organ Response Test (kSORT) based on gene expression levels in the blood.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
For the Assessment of Acute Rejection in Renal Transplantation (AART) study, the researchers used an assay called quantitative polymerase chain reaction (QPCR) to measure the expression of 43 genes whose expression levels change during acute kidney rejection in blood samples collected from patients who had had a kidney transplant. Using a training set of 143 samples and statistical analyses, the researchers identified a 17-gene set (kSORT) that discriminated between patients with and without acute rejection detected by kidney biopsy. The 17-gene set correctly identified 39 of the samples taken from 47 patients with acute rejection as being from patients with acute rejection, and 87 of 96 samples from patients without acute rejection as being from patients without acute rejection. The researchers validated the gene set using 124 independent samples. Then, using 191 serial samples, they showed that the gene set was able to predict acute rejection up to three months before detection by biopsy. Finally, the researchers used 100 blood samples to develop an algorithm (a step-wise calculation) to classify patients as being at high or low risk of acute rejection.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings describe the early development of a noninvasive tool (kSORT) that might, eventually, help clinicians identify patients at risk of acute rejection after kidney transplantation. kSORT needs to be tested in more patients before being used clinically, however, to validate its predictive ability, particularly given that the current gold standard test against which it was compared (biopsy) is far from perfect. An additional limitation of kSORT is that it did not discriminate between cell-mediated and antibody-mediated immune rejection. These two types of immune rejection are treated in different ways, so clinicians ideally need a test for acute rejection that indicates which form of immune rejection is involved. The authors are conducting a follow-up study to help determine whether kSORT can be used in clinical practice to identify acute rejection and to identify which patients are at greatest risk of transplant rejection and may require biopsy.
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pmed.1001759.
The US National Kidney and Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse provides links to information about all aspects of kidney disease; the US National Kidney Disease Education Program provides resources to help improve the understanding, detection, and management of kidney disease (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information for patients on chronic kidney disease and about kidney transplants, including some personal stories
The US National Kidney Foundation, a not-for-profit organization, provides information about chronic kidney disease and about kidney transplantation (in English and Spanish)
The not-for-profit UK National Kidney Federation provides support and information for patients with kidney disease and for their carers, including information and personal stories about kidney donation and transplantation
World Kidney Day, a joint initiative between the International Society of Nephrology and the International Federation of Kidney Foundations, aims to raise awareness about kidneys and kidney disease
MedlinePlus provides links to additional resources about kidney diseases, kidney failure, and kidney transplantation; the MedlinePlus encyclopedia has a page about transplant rejection