Immunosuppression: practice and trends


  • Notes on Sources: The articles in this report are based on the reference tables in the 2003 OPTN/SRTR Annual Report, which are not included in this publication. Many relevant data appear in the figures included here; other tables from the Annual Report that serve as the basis for this article include the following: Tables 5.6a–d, 6.6a–d, 7.6a–d, 8.6a–d, 9.6a–d, 10.6a–d, 11.6a–d, 12.6a–d, and 13.6a–d. All of these tables are also available online at

  • Funding: The Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR) is funded by contract #231-00-0116 from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). The views expressed herein are those of the authors and not necessarily those of the US Government. This is a US Government-sponsored work. There are no restrictions on its use.


Over the past decade, immunosuppression therapy has undergone striking changes in the scale and pace by which new immunosuppressive molecules and antibodies have become incorporated into daily transplant medicine. An organ-by-organ review of data reveals several trends. The highest use of induction therapy (over 70% of patients) was reported for simultaneous pancreas kidney (SPK) and pancreas after kidney (PAK) transplants in 2002; use of induction therapy was less common in liver transplants (only 18%). Corticosteroids served as discharge maintenance immunosuppression in over 87% of the recipients of kidney, SPK, PAK and thoracic transplants, and in over 70% of pancreas transplant alone (PTA) recipients. Corticosteroid use in intestine transplants was reported in 64% of recipients in 2002. A shift in the calcineurin inhibitor used for maintenance immunosuppression from cyclosporine to tacrolimus for the majority of patients had occurred for kidney, PAK, SPK, PTA, liver, lung, and heart-lung by 2001. For heart transplants, cyclosporine remained the calcineurin inhibitor of choice; tacrolimus remained the predominant calcineurin inhibitor agent for intestine (since 1994). Use of antibody treatment for rejection during the first post-transplant year for most organs declined. Short-term outcomes have improved, based on the observation that rates of rejection within the first year post-transplant have diminished.