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Combination therapy with ACE inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers to halt progression of chronic renal disease: pathophysiology and indications.

It is no a secret that we are confronted by an alarmingly increasing number of patients with progressive renal disease. There is ample evidence for the notion that angiotensin II (Ang II) is a major culprit in progression. The vasopeptide Ang II turned out to have also multiple nonhemodynamic pathophysiologic actions on the kidney, including proinflammatory and profibrogenic effects. Diverse complex Ang II generating systems have been identified, including specifically local tissue-specific renin-angiotensin systems (RAS). For example, proximal tubular cells have all components required for a functional RAS capable of synthesizing Ang II. On the other hand, Ang II is not the only effector of the RAS and other peptides generated by the RAS influence renal function and structure as well. Moreover, the discoveries that Ang II can be generated by enzymes other than angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) and that Ang II and other RAS derived peptides bind to various receptors with different functional consequences have further added to the complexity of this system. Several major clinical trials have clearly shown that ACE inhibitor treatment slows the progression of renal diseases, including in diabetic nephropathy. Well-controlled studies demonstrated that this effect is in part independent of blood pressure control. More recently, with Ang II type 1 receptor (AT(1)) receptor antagonists a similarly protective effect on renal function was seen in patients with type 2 diabetes. Neither ACE inhibitor treatment nor AT(1) receptor blockade completely abrogate progression of renal disease. A recently introduced novel therapeutic approach is combination treatment comprising both ACE inhibitor and AT(1) receptor antagonists. The rationale for this approach is based on several considerations. Small-scale clinical studies, mainly of crossover design, documented that combination therapy is more potent in reducing proteinuria in patients with different chronic renal diseases. Blood pressure as an important confounder was, however, significantly lower in the majority of this studies in the combination treatment arms compared to the respective monotherapies. In a recent prospective study Japanese authors avoided this confounder and demonstrated that combination therapy reduced hard end-points (end stage renal failure or doubling of serum creatinine concentration) by 50% compared to the respective monotherapies. This effect could not be explained by a more pronounced reduction of blood pressure in the combination therapy group. Although these results are encouraging, administration of combination therapy should be reserved currently to special high risk groups. Further studies are necessary to confirm these promising results. It is possible that combination therapy may increase the risk of hyperkalemia, particularly when with coadministered with medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or spironolactone. In our opinion patients with proteinuria >1 g/day despite optimal blood pressure control under RAS-blocking monotherapy are a high-risk group which will presumably benefit from combination therapy.

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