Cytokines and Immune Cell Phenotype in Acute Kidney Injury Associated With Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors

Naba Farooqui, Mark Zaidi, Lisa Vaughan, Trevor D. McKee, Eram Ahsan, Kevin D. Pavelko, Jose C. Villasboas, Svetomir Markovic, Timucin Taner, Nelson Leung, Haidong Dong, Mariam P. Alexander, Sandra M. Herrmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICIs) induce impressive antitumor responses but may lead to acute kidney injury (AKI) associated with ICI therapy (AKI-ICI). Biomarkers distinguishing AKI-ICI from AKI because of other causes (AKI-other) are currently lacking. Because ICIs block immunoregulatory pathways, we hypothesized that biomarkers related to immune cell dysregulation, including tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) and other markers of B and T cell activation in the systemic circulation and kidney tissue, may aid with the diagnosis of AKI-ICI. Methods: This is a prospective study consisting of 24 participants who presented with AKI during ICI therapy, adjudicated to either have AKI-ICI (n = 14) or AKI-other (n = 10). We compared markers of kidney inflammation and injury (neutrophil gelatinase-associated lipocalin, kidney injury molecule-1) as well as plasma and urine levels of T cell-associated cytokines (TNF-α, interferon-γ, interleukin (IL)-2, IL-4, IL-6, IL-8, IL-9, and IL-10) between groups. We also compared T-cell responses in the systemic circulation and in kidney tissue across groups, using mass cytometry systems. Results: We observed increase in several specific immune cells, including CD4 memory, T helper cells, and dendritic cells in the kidney tissue, as well as in the urine cytokines IL-2, IL-10, and TNF-α, in patients who developed AKI-ICI compared to patients with AKI-other (P < 0.05 for all). The discriminatory ability of TNF-α on AKI cause was strong (area under the curve = 0.814, 95% confidence interval: 0.623–1.00. The CD4+ T cells with memory phenotype formed the dominant subset. Conclusion: These results suggest that specific T-cell responses and their respective cytokines may be indicative of AKI associated with ICI therapy and may help to differentiate AKI-ICI from AKI-other. Urine TNF-α is a promising biomarker for AKI-ICI, which is most often caused by acute interstitial nephritis (AIN), and TNF-α pathway may serve as a potential target for therapeutic intervention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)628-641
Number of pages14
JournalKidney International Reports
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2023


  • acute interstitial nephritis
  • acute kidney injury
  • biomarkers
  • cytokines
  • immune cell phenotyping
  • immune checkpoint inhibitors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nephrology


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