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Low-dose thalidomide therapy for refractory cutaneous lesions of lupus erythematosus.

BACKGROUND: Thalidomide is an anti-inflammatory agent and an immunomodulator that inhibits the production of tumor necrosis factor alpha. It has shown promise as a treatment option for the cutaneous manifestations of lupus erythematosus (LE).

OBJECTIVE: To assess the degree of clinical response per subtype of cutaneous lupus, the duration of therapy before documented clinical improvement, and the incidence of adverse effects, including peripheral neuropathy, with low-dose thalidomide therapy at 100 mg daily in the treatment of refractory cutaneous lesions of LE.

METHODS: This retrospective medical record review of patients with refractory cutaneous manifestations of LE is one of the largest modern series in the literature. There were 29 patients seen at the Department of Dermatology, Wake Forest University School of Medicine (Winston-Salem, NC), who were unresponsive to conventional agents including antimalarial agents, and who started treatment between 1998 and 2000. Twenty-three patients who took the drug for 1 month or more were included in the analysis. Clinical responses were assessed by the investigators based on statements of improvement listed in the clinic notes and were categorized as "no response," "partial response," and "complete response." Partial response was classified as either 75% or greater or less than 75% improvement. The incidence of adverse effects including peripheral neuropathy was determined.

RESULTS: Of the 23 patients, 17 (74%) demonstrated complete resolution of the cutaneous manifestations of LE, whereas 3 patients (13%) demonstrated 75% or greater partial improvement; 3 patients (13%) had less than 75% partial clinical improvement; and 21 patients (91%) who demonstrated a complete or partial response did so within 8 weeks of initiating thalidomide therapy.

CONCLUSIONS: Based on the results of this case series, we believe that thalidomide should be given prime consideration as a treatment for antimalarial drug-resistant interface lesions of LE. The design of prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials for this indication is warranted.

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