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Keywords:

  • chronic rejection;
  • immunomodulation;
  • immunosuppression;
  • photopheresis;
  • transplantation

Background: Despite the decreased incidence of acute rejection episodes and improvements in short and intermediate term graft survival with current immunosuppressive agents, there has been little progress in decreasing the morbidity and mortality from chronic rejection. This phenomenon may, in part, be related to the development of a humoral immune response with increases in anti-HLA antibodies, which presents as accelerated graft arteriopathy with intimal hyperplasia. Methods: Based on prior experimental work, a pilot, prospective, randomized study was performed in 23 primary cardiac transplant recipients to determine whether the addition of prophylactic photopheresis to a cyclosporine, azathioprine and prednisone regimen was safe and resulted in decreased levels of panel reactive antibodies (PRA) and transplant arteriopathy. Results: There was no difference between the two groups in regard to infection or acute rejection incidence. The photopheresis group had a significant reduction in PRA levels at two time points within the first 6 postoperative months. Coronary artery intimal thickness was significantly reduced in the photopheresis group at 1-yr (0.23 vs. 0.49 mm, p<0.04) and 2-yr (0.28 vs. 0.46 mm, p<0.02) follow-up compared with the control group. Conclusion: In this small pilot study, photopheresis is a safe, well-tolerated immunomodulatory technique that is capable of decreasing the severity of chronic rejection manifesting as post-transplant graft intimal hyperplasia.