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Keywords:

  • Antibody-mediated rejection;
  • kidney biopsies;
  • microarrays;
  • rejection;
  • T cells;
  • transplants

Data-driven approaches to deteriorating kidney transplants, incorporating histologic, molecular and HLA antibody findings, have created a new understanding of transplant pathology and why transplants fail. Transplant dysfunction is best understood in terms of three elements: diseases, the active injury–repair response and the cumulative burden of injury. Progression to failure is mainly attributable to antibody-mediated rejection, nonadherence and glomerular disease. Antibody-mediated rejection usually develops late due to de novo HLA antibodies, particularly anti-class II, and is often C4d negative. Pure treated T cell-mediated rejection does not predispose to graft loss because it responds well, even with endothelialitis, but it may indicate nonadherence. The cumulative burden of injury results in atrophy-fibrosis (nephron loss), arterial fibrous intimal thickening and arteriolar hyalinosis, but these are not progressive without ongoing disease/injury, and do not explain progression. Calcineurin inhibitor toxicity has been overestimated because burden-of-injury lesions invite this default diagnosis when diseases such as antibody-mediated rejection are missed. Disease/injury triggers a stereotyped active injury–repair response, including de-differentiation, cell cycling and apoptosis. The active injury–repair response is the strongest correlate of organ function and future progression to failure, but should always prompt a search for the initiating injury or disease.