Short-term efficacy of tacrolimus in steroid-refractory ulcerative colitis – experience in 130 patients


Correspondence to:

Dr K. J. Schmidt, Department of Internal Medicine I, University Hospital of Schleswig-Holstein, Ratzeburger Allee 160, D-23538 Lübeck/Germany.




Steroid-refractory ulcerative colitis (UC) remains a challenging condition warranting surgery upon failure of pharmacological treatment. Calcineurin inhibitors or infliximab are alternatives in this situation. Data on the efficacy and safety of tacrolimus in this setting are limited.


To study the short-term efficacy and safety of tacrolimus in moderate-to-severe steroid-refractory UC. The role of thiopurines in this situation and predictors of colectomy were evaluated.


In three centers, all charts from tacrolimus-treated patients with steroid-refractory UC were reviewed. Efficacy was assessed by colectomy-free survival and clinical remission at 3 months.


We identified 130 patients with pancolitis in 75 (59%), left-sided disease in 35 (27%) and proctitis in 18 patients (14%) (disease localisation not obtainable in two patients). The median age was 40 (range: 18–81). Clinical activity according to the median Lichtiger score decreased from 13 (range: 4–17) at baseline to 3 (0–14) at week 12. Eighteen patients underwent colectomy within the first 3 months of treatment with tacrolimus (14%). Clinical remission was achieved in 94 patients (72%) in this period. Thiopurines given in parallel to tacrolimus tended to limit colectomy and significantly increased remission (P = 0.002) in the short-term. No other predictors of colectomy or remission were identified. Side effects were noticed in 53% of patients and no severe events occurred.


This large survey confirms the efficacy and safety of tacrolimus in patients with steroid-refractory ulcerative colitis.