Background: The extent of renal fibrosis in chronic kidney disease (CKD) is the best predictor for progression of most renal diseases. To date, no established biomarkers of renal fibrosis exist.

Methods: We measured circulating and urinary-specific matrix metalloproteinase (MMP)-generated collagen type I and III degradation fragments (C1M and C3M) and an N-terminal propeptide of collagen III (Pro-C3), as markers of collagen type III production, in three rat models of CKD and fibrosis: renal mass reduction (5/6 nephrectomy), progressive glomerulonephritis (chronic anti-Thy1.1 nephritis) and adenine crystal-induced nephropathy. Healthy rats served as controls.

Results: In all three models, the animals developed significant CKD and renal fibrosis. Compared with healthy rats, serum C1M and C3M significantly increased in rats with 5/6 nephrectomy and adenine nephropathy (2- to 3-fold), but not with chronic anti-Thy1.1 nephritis. Urinary C1M and C3M levels increased 9- to 100-fold in all three models compared with controls. Urinary degradation markers correlated closely with renal deposition of collagen type I and type III. Pro-C3 was significantly increased only in the urine of 5/6 nephrectomy rats.

Conclusions: In particular, urinary markers of MMP-driven collagen degradation, rather than collagen production markers, may represent a novel, specific and non-invasive diagnostic approach to assess kidney fibrosis

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