Primer: Histopathology of polyomavirus-associated nephropathy in renal allografts

Peter Liptak, Eva Kemeny, Bela Ivanyi

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

34 Citations (Scopus)


The BK polyomavirus exhibits tropism for the renal tubular epithelium, where it establishes latent infection. Vigorous immunosuppression of renal allograft recipients can lead to reactivation of the infection and the development of polyomavirus-associated nephropathy (PVAN). Clinically, gradually decreasing renal function, viremia and viruria are observed several months after transplantation; allograft failure occurs in 1-10% of patients. Definitive diagnosis requires an allograft biopsy. Histologically, viral replication results in tubular epithelial cell enlargement, karyomegaly and nuclear inclusion bodies. The cytopathic changes are often associated with lysis of tubular epithelial cells, denudation of the basement membrane and an interstitial inflammatory response. The involvement is multifocal; distal nephron segments are more severely affected than proximal segments. Changes observed during light microscopy are suggestive but not pathognomonic for PVAN, and the diagnosis must be confirmed by adjunct studies. Adjunct studies consist of immunohistochemistry on paraffin sections using an antibody to the SV40 large T antigen, or electron microscopy of infected tubular epithelial cells (virions 40 nm in diameter). PVAN manifests in three histologic patterns: pattern A, viral cytopathic changes with no or only minimal inflammation; pattern B, cytopathic and cytolytic lesions with interstitial inflammation; or pattern C, predominantly interstitial fibrosis and tubular atrophy, with variable cytopathic and inflammatory changes. These patterns correlate with clinical outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)631-636
Number of pages6
JournalNature Clinical Practice Nephrology
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Nov 1 2006


  • BK virus
  • Polyomavirus-associated nephropathy
  • Renal allograft
  • Renal biopsy
  • Ultrastructure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Nephrology

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