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Lupus Nephritis in Asia: Clinical Features and Management

Desmond Y H Yap, Tak Mao Chan
Kidney Diseases 2015, 1 (2): 100-9
27536670

BACKGROUND: Lupus nephritis (LN) is a common and severe organ involvement manifesting itself in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). There is a considerable difference in prevalence, severity, treatment response and outcomes between Asian LN patients and LN patients from other racial backgrounds.

SUMMARY: Asian SLE patients have a higher prevalence of LN than Caucasian SLE patients and often present with a more severe disease. Increasing data from genetic studies, accompanied by progress in high-throughput genotyping, have advanced our knowledge about genetic predispositions that might partly contribute to the clinical variations observed. Corticosteroids combined with either cyclophosphamide (CYC) or mycophenolic acid (MPA) is the current standard-of-care induction regimen for severe LN irrespective of race or ethnicity. However, the preference for MPA or CYC, and possibly the optimum dose for MPA, is influenced by the patient's origin. Also, there is an insufficient evidence base for reduced-dose intravenous CYC in Asian patients. Health economics and access to prompt diagnosis and treatment are still challenging issues in some Asian regions. The former represents a significant obstacle limiting the access of patients to MPA despite the proven efficacy of the drug as an induction agent and its superiority over azathioprine (AZA) in preventing disease flares when used for long-term maintenance immunosuppression. Calcineurin inhibitors such as tacrolimus deserve further investigation in view of their additional effect on podocytes by reducing proteinuria and the promising data from Asian patients. Despite considerable advances in the clinical management of LN over the past few decades with resultant improvements in patients' outcomes, there are still knowledge gaps and unmet clinical needs. Asia has made substantial contributions to the evidence base that guides clinical management and continues to offer invaluable opportunities for research pursuits.

KEY MESSAGES: Treatment responses and clinical outcomes in Asian patients with LN compare favorably with patients from other parts of the world. The prevention and treatment of infective complications remain significant challenges in managing LN in Asia.

FACTS FROM EAST AND WEST: (1) The prevalence of SLE is lower among Caucasians than other ethnicities. A higher prevalence is observed among Asians and African Americans, while the highest prevalence is found in Caribbean people. The prevalence of LN in Asian SLE patients is much higher than in Caucasians as well. However, the 10-year renal outcome and renal survival rate appear to be better in Asians. (2) Polymorphisms of genes involved in the immune response, such as Fcγ receptor, integrin alpha M, TNF superfamily 4, myotubularin-related protein 3 and many others, might be partly responsible for the differences in prevalence between the different ethnic groups. European ancestry was shown to be associated with a decrease in the risk of LN even after adjustment for genes most associated with renal disease. (3) Access to health care is a key determinant of disease progression, treatment outcome and the management of complications such as infections, particularly in South Asia, and might also explain disparities between clinical outcomes. (4) The efficacy of low-dose CYC combined with corticosteroids for induction treatment of LN was proved in European Caucasian patients. This treatment is also used in Asia, although no formal evaluation of efficacy and safety in comparison with other treatment regimens exists in this population. The efficacy of mycophenolate mofetil (MMF) is similar to that of CYC, and similar between Asians and Caucasians. MMF may be more effective than CYC in inducing response in high-risk populations such as African American or Hispanic patients. MMF might cause less infection-related events in Asians, but its high cost prevents broader usage at present. (5) For maintenance therapy, corticosteroid combined with AZA or MMF is used worldwide, with a broadly similar efficacy of both treatments, although there are data suggesting that in high-risk populations (e.g. African Americans) MMF may be more effective in preventing renal flares. AZA is often preferred in Asia due to economic constraints and because of its safety in pregnancy. (6) Alternative therapies under investigation include rituximab, which might be more efficient in Caucasians, as well as belimumab. Recent Japanese and Chinese studies have indicated a potential benefit of tacrolimus as a substitute for or in addition to CYC or MMF (dual or triple immunosuppression). Mizoribine is used in Japan exclusively.

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