Maintenance of kidney function in kidney allografts remains a challenge, as the allograft often progressively develops fibrosis after kidney transplantation. Fibrosis is caused by the accumulation of extracellular matrix proteins like type I and III collagen (COL I and III) that replace the functional tissue. We assessed the concentrations of a neo-epitope fragment of COL III generated by matrix metalloproteinase-9 cleavage (C3M) in two rat models resembling the ischaemic injury taking place following kidney transplantation.

We measured C3M in urine (U-C3M) and plasma (P-C3M) samples of rats subjected to unilateral nephrectomy followed by sham operation (NTx) or ischaemia reperfusion injury (NTxIRI) as well as in rats subjected to bilateral ischaemia reperfusion injury (BiIRI). Levels of U-C3M were normalized to urinary creatinine and were correlated to plasma creatinine, blood urea nitrogen, messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA) of markers of kidney injury, and mRNA and protein levels of markers of tissue repair and fibrosis.

Levels of U-C3M were significantly elevated 7 days after ischaemia reperfusion in the NTxIRI. BiIRI animals showed higher levels of U-C3M after 7 and 14 days of reperfusion but not at 21 days. P-C3M did not change in any of the models. There was a significant correlation between U-C3M and mRNA levels of fibronectin, COL I alpha 1 chain (COL Ia1) and neutrophil gelatinase-associated lipocalin (NGAL), and protein levels of alpha smooth muscle actin (αSMA), fibronectin and COL III in NTxIRI but not in NTx animals. Levels of U-C3M increased significantly in the BiIRI animals subsequent to reperfusion, and mirrored the histological alterations. Furthermore, U-C3M was associated with the extent of fibrosis, and remained elevated even after plasma creatinine levels decreased.

These results demonstrate that degradation of COL III increases after ischaemia reperfusion injury, and that U-C3M may be a non-invasive marker of tissue repair and fibrosis in the ischaemic kidney.

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