Kidney nontumor

Glomerular disease

Membranous nephropathy

Primary membranous nephropathy

Topic Completed: 1 September 2014

Minor changes: 4 January 2022

Copyright: 2003-2022,, Inc.

PubMed Search: Membranous glomerulonephritis [title] "loattrfree full text"[sb]

Nikhil Sangle, M.D.
Page views in 2021: 7,558
Page views in 2022 to date: 345
Cite this page: Sangle N. Primary membranous nephropathy. website. Accessed January 18th, 2022.
Definition / general
  • Most common cause of nephrotic syndrome in adults (40%); 5% of cases in children
  • Diffuse glomerular wall thickening due to in situ immune complexes (electron dense) in glomerular basement membrane but NOT in mesangium
  • 75% of adult and 20% of childhood cases are idiopathic autoimmune disease linked to HLA, caused by antibodies to a renal autoantigen (including α-enolase, J Proteomics 2011;74:2008 and others, Proteomics Clin Appl 2011;5:90)
  • Considered the human model of Heymann nephritis, which in rats is produced by antibody to megalin antigen complex on basal surface of visceral epithelial cells (megalin is homologous to LDL receptor)
  • Secondary cases are associated with cancer (lung, colon, melanoma), hepatitis B/C, malaria, schistosomiasis, drugs (penicillamine, captopril, gold, NSAID), heavy metals, lupus, diabetes, thyroiditis and angiofollicular lymph node hyperplasia (Arch Pathol Lab Med 1979;103:591)
  • Proteinuria may be due to C5b-C9 (MAC complex of complement)
  • Allograft recurrences represent idiopathic MGN due to IgG4, with different pathogenic mechanism than de novo MGN (Transplant Proc 2011;43:3743)
Clinical features
  • Insidious onset of nephrotic syndrome, occasionally hematuria and hypertension
  • Must rule out and treat secondary causes
  • 10% die or develop renal failure in 10 years (40% eventually develop renal failure)
  • Rarely, tubulointerstitial nephritis due to antitubular basement membranes
  • Hepatitis B cases resemble lupus nephritis class V, but are HepB+ and lack SLE's extrarenal manifestations and autoantibodies (Mod Pathol 2000;13:166)

    Variants of membranous glomerulonephritis (MGN):
  • MGN with crescents
  • MGN with antitubular basement membrane nephritis
  • Transplant associated MGN
  • MGN with superimposed renal vein thrombosis
  • Variable course of disease makes it difficult to evaluate therapy
  • Alternating steroids and chlorambucil or cyclophosphamide (Ponticelli protocol) for six months
  • If no remission after protocol, consider cyclosporine, adrenocorticotropic hormone, mycophenolate mofetil, rituximab (J Biol Regul Homeost Agents 2012;26:135)
  • Treatment is effective on post-transplant recurrences (Am J Transplant 2012;12:1029)
Case reports
Microscopic (histologic) description
  • Early biopsies may be normal
  • Later: uniform diffuse capillary wall thickening without hypercellularity, without mesangial sclerosis and without inflammatory cells
  • Proximal convoluted tubules contain hyaline droplets, reflecting protein reabsorption
  • With progression, get membrane thickening, narrow capillary lumina, mesangial sclerosis and glomerulosclerosis
Microscopic (histologic) images
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Rigid capillary tufts with visible fuchsinophilic deposits

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Spikes and holes in MN on silver stain

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Early stage MN on silver stain

Contributed by Nicole K. Andeen, M.D. (Case #498)


Jones stain

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Various images, including EM

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Thickened glomerular capillary loops

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Silver stain shows basement membrane spikes

Immunofluorescence description
  • Granular diffuse peripheral deposits, usually IgG and C3, also C5b-C9 and occasionally IgM or IgA
  • C4d immunostaining may be diagnostic (Histol Histopathol 2011;26:1391)

  • Stage I: LM - normal for slightly thickened BM, slight GMB vacuolization; IF - fine granular IgG, C3; EM - scattered small subepithelial electron dense deposits, no foot process effacement or spikes
  • Stage II: LM - moderately thickened BM with spikes and vacuolization; IF - moderate sized, granular IgG, C3; EM - diffuse spikes due to subepithelial deposits, diffuse foot process effacement
  • Stage III: LM - markedly thickened GBM, residual spikes and vacuoles, chain like appearance; IF - coarsely granular IgG, C3; EM - intramembranous deposits, spikes, neomembrane formation and diffuse foot process effacement
  • Stage IV: LM - markedly thickened GBM, few spikes, vacuoles and glomerulosclerosis; IF - focal IgG, C3; EM - sclerotic GBM, few deposits and lacunae
Immunofluorescence images
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Granular capillary loop staining for IgG in an idiopathic MN

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Granular capillary loop staining for IgG in a lupus MN on IF

Contributed by Nicole K. Andeen, M.D. (Case #498)

Granular peripheral capillary wall staining for IgG

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Diffuse granular immunofluoresence for IgG

Electron microscopy images

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Subepithelial deposits in idiopathic MN

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Subepithelial deposits in lupus MN

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Intramembranous deposits

Board review style question #1
What is the clinical utility of identifying anti-PLA2R antibodies in a patient with membranous nephropathy?

  1. It is characteristic of primary membranous nephropathy and evaluation for an underlying neoplasm or autoimmune disorder is not needed
  2. It suggests an underlying autoimmune disorder
  3. It suggests an underlying malignancy
  4. It supports a diagnosis of secondary membranous nephropathy
Board review style answer #1
A. It is characteristic of primary membranous nephropathy and evaluation for an underlying neoplasm or autoimmune disorder is not needed.

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Reference: Primary membranous glomerulonephritis
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