Abstract: Background: Maintenance steroid therapy is associated with significant morbidity and mortality in renal transplant recipients. Elimination of the many long-term side effects of corticosteroids, including those that impinge on cardiovascular risk, remains a laudable goal in designing immunosuppressive protocols. However, concern persists that prednisone-free maintenance immunotherapy in kidney transplant recipients will result in an increase incidence of acute rejections, renal dysfunction and ultimate graft loss.
Methods: From 24 March 2003 to 1 December 2004, 84 kidney transplant recipients (61 deceased donor, 23 living donors) discontinued prednisone on post-operative day 6. Immunotherapy consisted of polyclonal antibody induction (thymoglobulin) for five d and prednisone intraoperatively with a rapid taper over the next six d. Maintenance therapy consisted of a sirolimus and CellCept-based calcineurin inhibitor-minimization protocol. Tacrolimus and mycophenolate mofetil (CellCept) were initiated on day 0. Sirolimus immunotherpay was started on post-operative day 6 concomitant with the cessation of steroids. We compared outcomes with that of our historical controls, treated with sirolimus and tacrolimus, who did not discontinue steroids. In addition, we analyzed outcomes independently for recipients of living and deceased donors in the steroid-free protocol.
Results: The recipients on prednisone-free maintenance immunosuppression had excellent 2.5-yr actuarial patient survival (97%), graft survival (93%), and acceptable acute rejection-free graft survival (89%). The mean serum creatinine level (±SD) at one yr was 1.5 ± 0.6 mg/dL and at two yr was 1.5 ± 0.6 mg/dL. We noted that 5% of recipients developed cytomegalovirus (CMV) syndrome; 1%, polyoma nephropathy; 1%, post-transplant lymphoproliferative disorder (PTLD), and 5% developed post-transplant diabetes mellitus (PTDM). In all, 91% of kidney recipients with functioning grafts remain steroid-free as of 31 December 2005. When compared with historical controls, the recipients on the early steroid-withdrawal (ESW) protocol had comparable graft survival, acute rejection-free survival, graft function, but significantly better patient actuarial survival (p = 0.048). In addition, recipients on the steroid-free protocol had decreased prevalence of four risk factors for cardiovascular disease when compared with historical controls: hypertension (p = 0.008), hyperlipidemia (p = 0.003), weight gain (p = 0.024), and incidence of PTDM (p = 0.015).
Conclusion: Early steroid-withdrawal in renal transplant recipients with a sirolimus and CellCept-based calcineurin inhibitor-minimimization protocol can effectively reduce many of the steroid-related side effects, decrease risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and is associated with improved recipient survival without compromising graft function.