This study, based upon 528 laboratory examinations and 16 complete autopsies of NZB/Bl mice, deals with autoimmune manifestations (as shown by hypergammaglobulinemia, Coombs positive hemolytic anemia, and the occasional presence of lupus- and rheumatoid-like factors) and mainly with the pathology and the pathogenesis of glomerulonephritis in these mice, a model system of membranous glomerulonephritis with spontaneous and insidious onset, progression through chronic stages, and almost certainly induced by immunological, and autoimmune, mechanisms. The earliest and lasting histological change was hyaline thickening of the capillary walls and adjacent intercapillary regions of the glomerular tufts, corresponding in location to polysaccharide-rich capillary basement membrane and mesangial materials. Distributed focally and diffusely in the glomerular tuft and eventually sparing no glomerulus, hyaline, granular, and fibrillar ("spongy fiber") materials produced narrowing of capillary lumens by concentric or eccentric encroachment upon them. In the later stages hyaline lobulation and sclerosis of the glomerular tufts occurred. Thus the lesions corresponded to those seen in human focal and diffuse membranous, chronic lobular, and lastly (intracapillary) sclerosing glomerulonephritis.
In all instances of glomerulonephritis the glomerular tufts contained selective localizations of mouse immunoglobulins corresponding in distribution to that of the hyaline and (PAS-positive) polysaccharide-rich materials in the focal and diffuse membranous and lobular lesions and in amounts increasing with the severity of glomerular disease. The mouse immunoglobulins were extracted from frozen sections of glomerulonephritic kidneys and were then capable of recombination with glomerular tufts in sections of autologous or isologous glomerulonephritic kidneys from which in vivo localized immunoglobulins had been extracted. The pattern of recombination with glomerular tufts was similar to that of in invo localized immunoglobulins. The extracted immunoglobulins did not show affinity for mouse red cells (in the indirect Coombs test) nor for autologous or isologous cell nuclei (in the immunofluorescence test). The serum of mice with severe glomerulonephritis contained immunoglobulins with in vitro affinity for extracted autologous or isologous glomerular tufts. Thus circulating as well as localized antibodies were demonstrated. The immunogenic materials (autoantigens) may have been formed in the glomerular tufts or accumulated in them from some other source, such as the circulating plasma; however they corresponded in location to polysaccharide-rich capillary basement membrane and mesangial materials.
The spleen was identified at the cellular level as the main site of formation of autoantibodies to red cells, as well as the main site of red cell destruction. Some evidence was brought forth suggesting that these autoantibodies were "heavy" or γM-globulins. More studies are in progress.