Successful immunosuppression withdrawal should benefit the natural history of organ transplantation patients. To identify the clinical hazards of removing drug treatment and possible characteristics that predict a favorable outcome in long-term liver recipients, immunosuppression was withdrawn completely and the clinicopathological outcome documented in 18 liver recipients. Indication for transplantation, HLA matching, early rejection history, and presence of microchimerism were examined as predictors of outcome. Chimerism was determined by polymerase chain reaction–based examination for donor-specific HLA-DRB1 alleles and Y-gene–specific nucleotide sequences. At 3 years, 5 patients (28%) remained completely off immunosuppression; 12 patients (67%) experienced histological graft changes: acute rejection in 4, portal tract inflammation/hepatitis in 7, and necrosis in 1. Hepatitis B or C viral infections did not account for the nonrejection patterns. Unmasking of systemic disorders occurred. Chimerism, demonstrated in 7 patients (39%), with skin the optimal tissue, was not associated with tolerance. Parameters associated with successful drug withdrawal were transplantation for non–immune-mediated liver disorders, fewer donor–recipient HLA A, B, and DR mismatches, and a low incidence of early rejection. Immunosuppression withdrawal is a feasible option in a proportion of selected liver recipients, but identification of tolerant patients remains imprecise.
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