Acute Tubular Injury (ATI) is the leading cause of Delayed Graft Function (DGF) after renal transplantation (RTX). Biopsies taken 1 week after RTX often show extensive tubular damage, which in most cases resolves due to the high regenerative capacity of the kidney. Not much is known about the relation between histological parameters of renal damage and regeneration immediately after RTX and renal outcome in patients with DGF. We retrospectively evaluated 94 patients with DGF due to ATI only. Biopsies were scored for morphological characteristics of renal damage (edema, casts, vacuolization, and dilatation) by three independent blinded observers. The regenerative potential was quantified by tubular cells expressing markers of proliferation (Ki67) and dedifferentiation (CD133). Parameters were related to renal function after recovery (CKD-EPI 3, 6, and 12 months posttransplantation). Quantification of morphological characteristics was reproducible among observers (Kendall’s W ≥ 0.56). In a linear mixed model, edema and casts significantly associated with eGFR within the first year independently of clinical characteristics. Combined with donor age, edema and casts outperformed the Nyberg score, a well-validated clinical score to predict eGFR within the first year after transplantation (R2 = 0.29 vs. R2 = 0.14). Although the number of Ki67+ cells correlated to the extent of acute damage, neither CD133 nor Ki67 correlated with renal functional recovery. In conclusion, the morphological characteristics of ATI immediately after RTX correlate with graft function after DGF. Despite the crucial role of regeneration in recovery after ATI, we did not find a correlation between dedifferentiation marker CD133 or proliferation marker Ki67 and renal recovery after DGF.
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