Background: Renal fibrosis is the hallmark of chronic kidney disease (CKD) and characterized by an imbalanced extracellular matrix remodeling. Endotrophin (ETP) is a signaling molecule released from collagen type VI (COL VI). ETP can be measured by the PRO-C6 assay, which quantifies the levels of COL VI formation. ETP levels were previously associated with mortality and disease progression in patients with CKD. We hypothesized that serum and urinary ETP levels correlate with the degree of interstitial fibrosis in kidney biopsies from patients with IgA nephropathy (IgAN) and patients with ANCA-associated vasculitis (AAV).

Methods: We examined a cohort of 49 IgAN and 47 AAV patients. A validation cohort of 85 IgAN patients was included. ETP was measured in serum (S-ETP) and urine (U-ETP/Cr) samples, taken on the same day before renal biopsy was performed, using the ELISA PRO-C6. The biopsies were evaluated for interstitial fibrosis and tubular atrophy according to the Banff and MEST-C scores.

Results: S-ETP and U-ETP/Cr levels correlated with kidney function, increased with CKD severity, correlated with the extent of interstitial fibrosis and gradually increased with increasing degree of interstitial fibrosis and tubular atrophy. ETP outperformed the known fibrosis biomarker Dickkopf-3 for discrimination of patients with high fibrotic burden. The association of S-ETP and U-ETP/Cr with the level of kidney fibrosis was confirmed in the validation cohort.

Conclusions: We demonstrated that high levels of circulating and excreted ETP are not only indicative of lower kidney function, but also reflect the burden of fibrosis in the kidneys.

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