Key Points

  • Functional characterization of 105 aHUS-associated FH variants reveals limitations of routinely used variant classification methods.

  • Adapting prediction algorithms to FH domains markedly improves variant classification while rarity in control databases can be misleading.

Atypical hemolytic uremic syndrome (aHUS) is a life-threatening thrombotic microangiopathy that can progress, when untreated, to end-stage renal disease. Most frequently, aHUS is caused by complement dysregulation due to pathogenic variants in genes that encode complement components and regulators. Amongst these genes, the Factor H (FH) gene, CFH, presents with the highest frequency (15-20%) of variants and is associated with the poorest prognosis. Correct classification of CFH variants as pathogenic or benign is essential to clinical care but remains challenging owing to the dearth of functional studies. As a result, significant numbers of variants are reported as variants of uncertain significance. To address this knowledge gap, we expressed and functionally characterized 105 aHUS-associated FH variants. All FH variants were categorized as pathogenic or benign, and for each, we fully documented the nature of the pathogenicity. Twenty-six previously characterized FH variants were used as controls to validate and confirm the robustness of the functional assays used. Of the remaining 79 uncharacterized variants, only 29 (36.7%) alter FH in vitro expression or function and are therefore proposed to be pathogenic. We show that rarity in control databases is not informative for variant classification, and we identify important limitations in applying prediction algorithms to FH variants. Based on structural and functional data, we suggest ways to circumvent these difficulties and thereby improve variant classification. Our work highlights the need for functional assays to interpret FH variants accurately if clinical care of patients with aHUS is to be individualized and optimized.

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