After discontinuation of calcineurin inhibitors, tapering of mycophenolate mofetil further impairs donor-directed cytotoxicity


Corresponding author: Dr Nicole M. van Besouw, Department of Internal Medicine-Transplantation, Erasmus MC, University Medical Center Rotterdam, Room Ee-559, PO Box 2040, NL-3000 CA Rotterdam, The Netherlands.
Tel.: +31 10 463 5419; fax: +31 10 408 9443;


Abstract:  Background:  Recently, we described a significant decrease in donor-specific cytotoxic T-lymphocyte precursor frequency (CTLpf) after discontinuation of calcineurin inhibitors (CNI), while the proliferative capacity in mixed lymphocyte culture (MLC), and the number of interferon-γ (IFN-γ) producing cells (pc) in Elispot remained unchanged.

Methods:  We tested T-cell reactivity in CNI free patients with stable renal graft function, on mycophenolate mofetil (MMF) or azathioprine (AZA) plus prednisone, who were tapered to 50% of their MMF or AZA dose.

Results:  Furthermore, tapering of the MMF or AZA dose resulted in a decrease of donor-reactive CTLpf in all patients with detectable CTLpf. Detectable numbers decreased from a median of 32 to 8 CTLp/106 peripheral blood mononuclear cell (PBMC). No effect on third-party reactive CTLpf was found, while the T-cell reactivity to donor and third-party cells as tested in MLC and in IFN-γ Elispot was not affected either by tapering of immunosuppression. Third-party reactivity was significantly higher than donor-specific reactivity in all tests. A control group showed no changes in any of the in vitro assays.

Conclusion:  Both withdrawal of CNI and tapering of MMF or AZA dose decreases the donor-specific CTLpf. Our data suggest that reduction of immunosuppression results in a specific decrease of donor-directed cytotoxic capacity of immunocompetent cells, while their proliferation and cytokine production capacity remained unchanged. Immunosuppression hinders development of cytotoxic non-responsiveness.