To characterize morphologic changes in the early post-transplant period in cyclosporine-treated renal allograft recipients, we examined biopsies from three groups of cyclosporine-treated patients: normal function (N = 9), ischemic acute renal failure or "acute tubular necrosis" (N = 12), and cyclosporine toxicity (N = 7). Groups were compared with each other and with previously studied groups of azathioprine-treated patients and native kidney patients. The interstitial infiltrate commonly observed in normally functioning azathioprine-treated grafts was not observed in normally functioning cyclosporine-treated grafts, but two of nine such grafts had a significant venulitis, a change also seen in three of the patients with cyclosporine nephrotoxicity. "Acute tubular necrosis" (ATN) in cyclosporine-treated graft recipients was characterized by focal necrosis of complete tubular cross sections, a finding normally rare in other types of ATN, and by shedding into the tubular lumen of tubular cells with non-pyknotic nuclei, a finding supporting our previous observation of detachment of viable tubular cells in ATN but not in the normal kidney. Hyaline arteriolar thickening was the only morphologic finding on biopsy which distinguished patients with cyclosporine nephrotoxicity from other groups. In summary, the morphologic changes observed in cyclosporine-treated renal allograft recipients with ATN or normal function are quite different from those observed in azathioprine-treated patients. Cyclosporine appears to enhance the tubular injury observed in ATN. Hyaline arteriolar thickening is the main distinguishing feature of cyclosporine nephrotoxicity.
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