Key Points

  • The ratio of plasma alpha-1-microglobulin to hemopexin concentration is associated with AKI biomarkers in sickle cell disease (SCD).

  • Enhanced scavenging of circulating heme to kidney triggers AKI in transgenic SCD mice.

Acute kidney injury (AKI) is a major clinical concern in sickle cell disease (SCD). Clinical evidence suggests that red cell alarmins may cause AKI in SCD however the sterile inflammatory process involved has hitherto not been defined. We discovered that hemopexin deficiency in SCD is associated with a compensatory increase in alpha-1-microglobulin (A1M) resulting in up to 10-fold higher A1M/hemopexin ratio in SCD compared to health controls. The A1M/hemopexin ratio is associated with markers of hemolysis and AKI in both humans and mice with SCD. Studies in mice showed that excess heme is directed to the kidneys in SCD in a process involving A1M causing AKI while excess heme in controls is transported to the liver as expected. Using genetic and bone marrow chimeric tools, we confirmed that hemopexin deficiency promotes AKI in sickle mice under hemolytic stress. However, AKI was blocked when hemopexin deficiency in sickle mice was corrected with infusions of purified hemopexin prior to the induction of hemolytic stress. This study identifies acquired hemopexin deficiency as a risk factor of AKI in SCD and hemopexin replacement as a potential therapy.

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