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Plasma C3 and C4 Concentrations in Management of Glomerulonephritis

Br Med J 1973; 3 doi: (Published 29 September 1973) Cite this as: Br Med J 1973;3:668
  1. J. S. Cameron,
  2. R. M. Vick,
  3. C. S. Ogg,
  4. W. M. Seymour,
  5. C. Chantler,
  6. D. R. Turner


    As part of a larger study of serial complement profiles in glomerulonephritis plasma C3 and C4 concentrations were measured using commercially available immunodiffusion plates. A total of 303 samples were obtained from 128 patients suffering from forms of nephritis associated with hypocomplementaemia—namely, lupus nephritis, mesangiocapillary glomerulonephritis (M.C.G.N.), and acute glomerulonephritis.

    These simple measurements of C3 and C4 gave clinically useful information. In lupus nephritis C3 and C4 generally correlated and C4 concentrations were more often and more profoundly depressed than C3 concentrations. Neither C3 nor C4 concentrations alone correlated well with the antinuclear factor titre.

    In both acute glomerulonephritis and M.C.G.N. the C3 concentrations were frequently lower than 20% of normal (which was never the case in patients with lupus), while the C4 concentration was usually normal and was almost never depressed in the absence of C3 depression. This suggests activation of complement at the C3 level by the “bypass” pathway in acute nephritis as well as in M.C.G.N., though both may be operating in some patients. In acute glomerulonephritis but not in M.C.G.N. C3 concentrations returned to normal within eight to 12 weeks.

    The two varieties of M.C.G.N. identified by the site of the deposits in the capillary glomerular walls differed in their C3 levels. In 10 patients with intramembranous dense linear deposits the C3 was always low over very long periods of time, rising in three out of four patients only after transplantation and immunosuppression. Other patients with M.C.G.N., in contrast, often showed normal C3 concentrations. Concentrations of C4 did not differ in either group, being normal in 80% of samples from all types.