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Summary

Background : Steroid resistance represents a major clinical problem in the treatment of ulcerative colitis. In vitro, interleukin-2 renders lymphocytes steroid resistant.

Aim : To explore the therapeutic potential of interleukin-2 receptor blockade in steroid-resistant ulcerative colitis with both in vitro measures and a pilot in vivo study.

Methods : Ten patients with steroid-resistant ulcerative colitis received a single bolus of 40 mg of intravenous basiliximab plus steroid treatment in an open-label, uncontrolled, 24-week study. The outcome was assessed using the Ulcerative Colitis Symptom Score, rectal biopsy and Inflammatory Bowel Disease Questionnaire. Lymphocyte steroid sensitivity was measured in vitro in 39 subjects in the presence or absence of basiliximab.

Results : Nine of the 10 patients achieved clinical remission within 8 weeks. At 24 weeks, seven patients were in clinical remission. Marked improvement in the Ulcerative Colitis Symptom Score was seen by 1 week (P = 0.004) and on rectal biopsy and Inflammatory Bowel Disease Questionnaire by 2 weeks (both P < 0.05). Improvements persisted to 24 weeks (Ulcerative Colitis Symptom Score, Inflammatory Bowel Disease Questionnaire, both P < 0.005). Eight of the nine responders relapsed (median, 9 weeks), but remission was re-achieved with further corticosteroids and the addition of azathioprine. At 24 weeks, seven patients were in full clinical remission, five off all steroid therapy. In vitro measurement of lymphocyte steroid sensitivity demonstrated steroid resistance in 22% of subjects. All were rendered steroid sensitive in the presence of basiliximab.

Conclusions : Basiliximab appears to be effective at inducing remission in steroid-resistant ulcerative colitis. In vitro, basiliximab also produced a dramatic increase in lymphocyte steroid sensitivity in healthy subjects. Confirmation in randomized controlled studies is required.