A Randomized 2x2 Factorial Clinical Trial of Renal Transplantation: Steroid-Free Maintenance Immunosuppression with Calcineurin Inhibitor Withdrawal after Six Months Associates with Improved Renal Function and Reduced Chronic Histopathology

R Brian Stevens, Kirk W Foster, Clifford D Miles, Andre C Kalil, Diana F Florescu, John P Sandoz, Theodore H Rigley, Tamer Malik, Lucile E Wrenshall
PloS One 2015, 10 (10): e0139247

INTRODUCTION: The two most significant impediments to renal allograft survival are rejection and the direct nephrotoxicity of the immunosuppressant drugs required to prevent it. Calcineurin inhibitors (CNI), a mainstay of most immunosuppression regimens, are particularly nephrotoxic. Until less toxic antirejection agents become available, the only option is to optimize our use of those at hand.

AIM: To determine whether intensive rabbit anti-thymocyte globulin (rATG) induction followed by CNI withdrawal would individually or combined improve graft function and reduce graft chronic histopathology-surrogates for graft and, therefore, patient survival. As previously reported, a single large rATG dose over 24 hours was well-tolerated and associated with better renal function, fewer infections, and improved patient survival. Here we report testing whether complete CNI discontinuation would improve renal function and decrease graft pathology.

METHODS: Between April 20, 2004 and 4-14-2009 we conducted a prospective, randomized, non-blinded renal transplantation trial of two rATG dosing protocols (single dose, 6 mg/kg vs. divided doses, 1.5 mg/kg every other day x 4; target enrollment = 180). Subsequent maintenance immunosuppression consisted of tacrolimus, a CNI, and sirolimus, a mammalian target of rapamycin inhibitor. We report here the outcome of converting patients after six months either to minimized tacrolimus/sirolimus or mycophenolate mofetil/sirolimus. Primary endpoints were graft function and chronic histopathology from protocol kidney biopsies at 12 and 24 months.

RESULTS: CNI withdrawal (on-treatment analysis) associated with better graft function (p <0.001) and lower chronic histopathology composite scores in protocol biopsies at 12 (p = 0.003) and 24 (p = 0.013) months, without affecting patient (p = 0.81) or graft (p = 0.93) survival, or rejection rate (p = 0.17).

CONCLUSION: CNI (tacrolimus) withdrawal at six months may provide a strategy for decreased nephrotoxicity and improved long-term function in steroid-free low immunological risk renal transplant patients.


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