Acute graft-versus-host disease after liver transplant: Novel use of etanercept and the role of tumor necrosis factor α inhibitors



Acute graft-versus-host disease following orthotopic liver transplantation is a rare but feared complication arising in 1% to 2% of cases with a dismal prognosis. It most often presents as fever, rash, and diarrhea with or without pancytopenia. Patients die from complications of marrow failure such as sepsis or bleeding. Because of its low incidence, there is no clear treatment protocol for this complication. Both increasing and withdrawing immunosuppression have been attempted with variable success. Although anti–tumor necrosis factor α therapy has been widely used for the treatment of steroid-resistant acute graft-versus-host disease in the hematopoietic stem cell transplant setting, there previously have been no reported cases of its use in liver transplantation. The aim of this report is to review a case of acute graft-versus-host disease and the use of etanercept to manage this complication. Etanercept has never previously been used in liver transplantation complicated by acute graft-versus-host disease. In the hematology literature, the success of its use is offset by significant rates of serious infectious (especially fungal) complications. However, preliminary results are encouraging and offer insight into its use as a potentially viable therapeutic option. We report the first successful use of etanercept in liver transplantation–associated graft-versus-host disease, albeit complicated by invasive aspergillosis, and recommend concurrent antifungal prophylaxis when the drug is used in this setting. Liver Transpl 15:421–426, 2009. © 2009 AASLD.