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Keywords:

  • hepatitis C virus patients;
  • immunosuppression;
  • liver transplantation;
  • steroid-free;
  • tacrolimus

Summary

The aim of this prospective randomized trial was to study the efficacy and safety of tacrolimus monotherapy (TACRO) and compare it with our standard treatment of tacrolimus plus steroids (TACRO + ST) after liver transplant (LT). Furthermore, the impact of steroid-free immunosuppression on outcome of hepatitis C virus (HCV) was analysed. Between 1998 and 2000, 60 patients (mean age: 57 years) were included in the study and randomized to receive TACRO (n = 28) or TACRO + ST (n = 32). Indication for LT was postnecrotic cirrhosis in all cases (58.3% were HCV-positive). Mean follow-up was 44 months. Survival, incidence of rejection, infection and side-effects were compared between the two groups. In patients with HCV infection, incidence and severity of acute hepatitis C, long-term outcome of recurrent hepatitis C and survival were studied in an intention-to-treat analysis or in the real group analysis (real-TACRO versus real-TACRO + ST). Patient survival at 1, 3 and 5 years, tacrolimus pharmacokinetics, incidence of rejection infections and side-effects were similar. In patients with HCV, the incidence and severity of graft hepatitis C tended to be lower in TACRO (47%) compared with TACRO + ST (67%) (P = NS), and also in real-TACRO (42%) compared with real-TACRO + ST (61%) (P = NS). A poor outcome considered as evolution to cirrhosis at 3 years was observed in one (9%) living patient in real-TACRO and nine (45%) in real-TACRO + ST (P = 0.04). Patient survival at 1, 3 and 5 years was 92%, 92% and 73% for real-TACRO and 78%, 61% and 51% for real TACRO + ST (P = 0.07). Steroid-free immunosuppression appears to be safe and efficacious. The main advantage of this regimen could be in HCV patients, as recurrence of hepatitis in the graft was less severe in the group of patients in whom steroids could be avoided completely.