The relationship between the donor-derived cell-free DNA fraction (dd-cfDNA[%]) in plasma in kidney transplant recipients at time of indication biopsy and gene expression in the biopsied allograft has not been defined.
In the prospective, multicenter Trifecta study, we collected tissue from 300 biopsies from 289 kidney transplant recipients to compare genome-wide gene expression in biopsies with dd-cfDNA(%) in corresponding plasma samples drawn just before biopsy. Rejection was assessed with the microarray-based Molecular Microscope Diagnostic System using automatically assigned rejection archetypes and molecular report sign-outs, and histology assessments that followed Banff guidelines.
The median time of biopsy post-transplantation was 455 days (5 days to 32 years), with a case mix similar to that of previous studies: 180 (60%) no rejection, 89 (30%) antibody-mediated rejection (ABMR), and 31 (10%) T cell–mediated rejection (TCMR) and mixed. In genome-wide mRNA measurements, all 20 top probe sets correlating with dd-cfDNA(%) were previously annotated for association with ABMR and all types of rejection, either natural killer (NK) cell–expressed (e.g., GNLY, CCL4, TRDC, and S1PR5) or IFN-–inducible (e.g., PLA1A, IDO1, CXCL11, and WARS). Among gene set and classifier scores, dd-cfDNA(%) correlated very strongly with ABMR and all types of rejection, reasonably strongly with active TCMR, and weakly with inactive TCMR, kidney injury, and atrophy fibrosis. Active ABMR, mixed, and active TCMR had the highest dd-cfDNA(%), whereas dd-cfDNA(%) was lower in late-stage ABMR and less-active TCMR. By multivariate random forests and logistic regression, molecular rejection variables predicted dd-cfDNA(%) better than histologic variables.
The dd-cfDNA(%) at time of indication biopsy strongly correlates with active molecular rejection and has the potential to reduce unnecessary biopsies.