The role of the membrane attack complex (MAC) as a mediator of renal tissue injury was evaluated in rats affected by bovine serum albumin (BSA)-induced immune complex glomerulonephritis. Immunofluorescence studies revealed concurrent deposits of IgG, BSA, C3, and the MAC along glomerular capillary walls, although the MAC manifested a more restricted distribution than that observed for immune complexes. Immunoelectron microscopic techniques were utilized to demonstrate immune complexes, C3, and the MAC within dense deposits in the subepithelial aspect of the basement membrane. Visceral epithelial foot processes were fused in areas overlying large dense deposits and exhibited intense staining for the MAC, lesser reactivity for C3 but IgG was absent from the foot process membranes. Smaller granular deposits of immune complexes, C3, and the MAC were observed in the subendothelial region of the lamina rara interna and the lamina densa. Immune complexes may activate the classical complement pathway causing diffuse injury to the glomerular basement membrane (GBM), allowing subepithelial accumulation of complexes. These observations implicate the MAC as a mediator of GBM and juxtaposed podocyte membrane injury, thereby contributing to disruption of the glomerular filtration barrier. IgG and C3 were demonstrated within tubulointerstitial regions on the surface of collagen fibers in close proximity to the tubular basement membrane (TBM) of proximal convoluted tubules. Within the TBM, C3 localization was prominent with diminished reactivity for the MAC, but IgG was not detectable. The demonstration of C3 and scant MAC deposits in the TBM of nonimmunized control rats without evidence of interstitial IgG and C3 deposits suggests that both nonimmune and immune processes play a role in the pathogenesis of extraglomerular lesions. Evidence derived from these morphologic studies indicates that the MAC is associated with injury to the GBM, foot process membranes of visceral epithelium, and the TBM. Further experiments designed to selectively enhance or inhibit the deposition of MAC and assess consequent renal dysfunction are required to substantiate hypotheses concerning the in vivo membranolytic potential of the MAC in experimental immune complex glomerulonephritis.

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