Membranoproliferative GN (MPGN) was recently reclassified as alternative pathway complement–mediated C3 glomerulopathy (C3G) and immune complex–mediated membranoproliferative GN (IC-MPGN). However, genetic and acquired alternative pathway abnormalities are also observed in IC-MPGN. Here, we explored the presence of distinct disease entities characterized by specific pathophysiologic mechanisms. We performed unsupervised hierarchical clustering, a data-driven statistical approach, on histologic, genetic, and clinical data and data regarding serum/plasma complement parameters from 173 patients with C3G/IC-MPGN. This approach divided patients into four clusters, indicating the existence of four different pathogenetic patterns. Specifically, this analysis separated patients with fluid-phase complement activation (clusters 1–3) who had low serum C3 levels and a high prevalence of genetic and acquired alternative pathway abnormalities from patients with solid-phase complement activation (cluster 4) who had normal or mildly altered serum C3, late disease onset, and poor renal survival. In patients with fluid-phase complement activation, those in clusters 1 and 2 had massive activation of the alternative pathway, including activation of the terminal pathway, and the highest prevalence of subendothelial deposits, but those in cluster 2 had additional activation of the classic pathway and the highest prevalence of nephrotic syndrome at disease onset. Patients in cluster 3 had prevalent activation of C3 convertase and highly electron-dense intramembranous deposits. In addition, we provide a simple algorithm to assign patients with C3G/IC-MPGN to specific clusters. These distinct clusters may facilitate clarification of disease etiology, improve risk assessment for ESRD, and pave the way for personalized treatment.
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