Background  Nephrogenic systemic fibrosis is a disease affecting the connective tissue of the skin and internal organs in patients with renal failure. No effective treatments are available.

Objectives  To investigate if the tyrosine kinase inhibitor, imatinib mesylate was effective in patients with moderate to severe nephrogenic systemic fibrosis.

Methods  Among 25 patients with nephrogenic systemic fibrosis evaluated for the study from 1 October 2009 to 1 December 2010, four were included. They were treated with oral imatinib mesylate at a start dose of 400 mg/day. Main outcome measure: Reduction of skin fibrosis and increase in joint mobility evaluated by the modified Rodnan skin score and a goniometer.

Results  In two patients, the imatinib mesylate dose was reduced to 200 mg/day and in one patient to 100 mg/day. Two patients were treated for 24 weeks, one patient for 16 weeks and one patient for 4 weeks. Three patients experienced tethering of their skin which lessened with reduction in modified Rodnan skin score from 24 to 20, 24 to 17 and 21 to 14 but with very limited changes in joint mobility. The fourth patient discontinued the treatment due to a complicating infection.

Conclusion  Imatinib mesylate may be an effective drug in the treatment of skin fibrosis in moderate to severe NSF cases, even at reduced doses. We found a positive clinical effect on the skin, but no convincing improvement of the joint mobility. Only few patients could be recruited limiting the interpretation and conclusions of the results.