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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.


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.


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


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).


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.


© 2015 Stevens et al. This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.



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