What is the cause of IgA nephropathy?
IgA nephropathy is one of a group of conditions called glomerulonephritis. In the outer part of the kidneys, tiny blood vessels cluster together to form structures called glomeruli. These filter the blood to make urine.
IgA nephropathy is caused by antibodies called IgA being trapped in the kidney and causing damage to the kidney. IgA is short for 'immunoglobulin A'. IgA is a type of antibody our body produces to fight infection. Antibodies are small proteins that circulate in the bloodstream. They are part of the body's defence (immune) system and are sometimes called immunoglobulins. They are made by B lymphocytes - a type of white blood cell.
The IgA gets to the kidneys in the bloodstream and then causes scarring and inflammation in the kidney. The scarring and inflammation are very small and can only be seen with a microscope. The glomeruli are damaged by deposits of IgA. IgA nephropathy does not usually run in families, so you need not worry about passing it on to your children.
The cause of IgA nephropathy is not completely understood. IgA is produced by glands around the throat and bowel to fight off infection. IgA is normally two antibody molecules stuck together.
In IgA nephropathy, these molecules appear to get joined up in longer chains. As these travel around in the blood and pass through the kidney they get stuck in the filters (glomeruli) in the kidney.
The trapped IgA then causes an inflammatory reaction. It is not known why these IgA chains develop.
Further reading and references
Lai KN, Leung JC, Tang SC; Recent advances in the understanding and management of IgA nephropathy. F1000Res. 2016 Feb 115. pii: F1000 Faculty Rev-161. doi: 10.12688/f1000research.7352.1. eCollection 2016.
Lv J, Xu D, Perkovic V, et al; Corticosteroid therapy in IgA nephropathy. J Am Soc Nephrol. 2012 Jun23(6):1108-16. doi: 10.1681/ASN.2011111112. Epub 2012 Apr 26.
Reid S, Cawthon PM, Craig JC, et al; Non-immunosuppressive treatment for IgA nephropathy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2011 Mar 16(3):CD003962. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003962.pub2.
Vecchio M, Bonerba B, Palmer SC, et al; Immunosuppressive agents for treating IgA nephropathy. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Aug 3(8):CD003965. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003965.pub2.
Cheng J, Zhang X, Tian J, et al; Combination therapy an ACE inhibitor and an angiotensin receptor blocker for IgA nephropathy: a meta-analysis. Int J Clin Pract. 2012 Oct66(10):917-23. doi: 10.1111/j.1742-1241.2012.02970.x.
Kamei K, Nakanishi K, Ito S, et al; Long-term results of a randomized controlled trial in childhood IgA nephropathy. Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2011 Jun6(6):1301-7. doi: 10.2215/CJN.08630910. Epub 2011 Apr 14.
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