Atypical anti-glomerular basement membrane glomerulonephritis in a patient with metastatic melanoma treated with mitogen-activated protein kinase and immune checkpoint inhibitors: a case report

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Article, Peer-reviewed

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Background: Immune checkpoint inhibitors and mitogen-activated protein kinase inhibitors have become the standard of care in patients with advanced melanoma bearing V600 mutations. However, little is known about their nephrotoxicity. To date, only two cases of anti-glomerular basement membrane glomerulonephritis after exposure to checkpoint inhibitors have been documented. Herein, we report the first case of a patient with metastatic melanoma who developed linear Immunoglobulin G 3+, Immunoglobulin A 2+, kappa 2+, lambda 1+ anti-glomerular basement membrane glomerulonephritis with negative serology following treatment with checkpoint inhibitors and subsequently mitogen-activated protein kinase inhibitors.

Case presentation: A 58-year-old Caucasian male was referred to our outpatient nephrology clinic with acute kidney injury and proteinuria. He had received three cycles of ipilimumab and nivolumab for recurrent melanoma positive for the BRAF V600E mutation with metastasis to the lungs. Immunotherapy had been discontinued in the setting of severe adverse effects including dermatitis, colitis, and hepatitis. Because of persistent bilateral lung metastases and left pleural metastases, the patient had been initiated on dabrafenib and trametinib until his presentation to our clinic 6 months later. On presentation, his blood pressure was 172/89 mm/Hg and had 2+ edema bilaterally. His creatinine level was 2.4 mg/dL from a previous normal baseline with a urinary protein-to-creatinine ratio of 2 g/g. His urinalysis showed dysmorphic erythrocytes and red blood cell casts. Serologic testing was negative for antineutrophilic cytoplasmic antibodies, proteinase 3 antigen, myeloperoxidase, and anti-glomerular basement membrane antibody. Complement levels were normal. A renal biopsy showed focal crescentic (2 of 15 glomeruli with cellular crescents), proliferative, and sclerosing glomerulonephritis with diffuse linear staining of glomerular capillary loops dominant for IgG (3+), IgA (2+), kappa (2+), and lambda (1+) minimal changes. He was initiated on oral cyclophosphamide and pulse intravenous methylprednisolone followed by oral prednisone for 6 months, which stabilized his renal function until reinitiation of immunotherapy.

Conclusions: Acute kidney injury is an increasingly reported adverse effect of both drug classes, mostly affecting the tubulointerstitial compartment and infrequently the glomerulus. Although the biologic effect of these drugs on immune cells is not entirely understood, it is possible that BRAF-induced podocyte injury in combination with direct T-cell-mediated glomerular injury facilitated by checkpoint inhibitors led to the unmasking of cryptic antigens, loss of self-tolerance, and autoimmunity. More importantly, we show that treatment with corticosteroids and cyclophosphamide was able to improve and stabilize our patient's renal function until the reinitiation of immunotherapy.

Keywords: Atypical anti-GBM; BRAF inhibitors; Immune checkpoint inhibitors; MEK inhibitors.