Background: There is an unmet need for noninvasive markers specific for kidney transplant rejection. Such a marker may eventually overcome the need for a transplant biopsy. In this pilot study, the potential of circulating cell-free nucleosomes (CCFN) to serve as a biomarker for kidney transplant rejection was evaluated. Methods: Forty de novo kidney transplant recipients were prospectively followed as part of a randomized, controlled clinical trial. Total CCFN (H3) and CCFN with the histone modifications H3K36me3 and H3 citrulline were measured in patients at four fixed time points: before transplantation and on days 3–6, 30 and 180 after kidney transplantation. In addition, serum collected at times of transplant rejection (n = 14) was analyzed. CCFN were measured with a Nu.Q™ Assay kit (VolitionRx), an ELISA-based assay using antibodies directed against nucleosomes. Results: For total CCFN (H3), H3K36me3, and H3 citrulline, the same pattern was seen over time: Concentrations were elevated shortly after transplantation (day 3–6) followed by a decline reaching baseline (pre-transplantation) values at days 30 and 180. At times of acute rejection, the median concentration of total CCFN (H3) was significantly higher compared to the stable situation (day 30): 4309 (3435–5285) versus 2885 (1668–3923) ng/mL, p < 0.05, respectively. Total CCFN (H3) had an acceptable ability to discriminate rejection from no rejection (AUC-ROC = 0.73) with a negative predictive value of 92.9%. For both histone modifications (H3K36me3 and H3 citrulline), there was no significant difference between episodes of acute rejection and the stable situation (day 30). Conclusion: In this pilot study, total CCFN (H3) concentrations are increased at times of acute kidney transplant rejection. The high negative predictive value implies that whenever a patient experiences loss of renal transplant function and the total CCFN (H3) is not increased, causes other than acute rejection should be considered. Clinical implementation of total CCFN (H3) measurement may avoid unnecessary and potentially harmful kidney transplant biopsies.

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Clinical Epigenetics
Department of Internal Medicine

Verhoeven, J.G.H.P. (Jeroen G. H. P.), Baan, C., Peeters, A.M.A. (Annemiek M. A.), Clahsen-van Groningen, M., Nieboer, D., Herzog, M. (Mariëlle), … Boer, K. (2021). Circulating cell-free nucleosomes as biomarker for kidney transplant rejection: a pilot study. Clinical Epigenetics, 13(1). doi:10.1186/s13148-020-00969-4