Background: The combination of cyclophosphamide and prednisolone is effective for the treatment of severe lupus nephritis but has serious adverse effects. Whether mycophenolate mofetil can be substituted for cyclophosphamide is not known.
Methods: In 42 patients with diffuse proliferative lupus nephritis we compared the efficacy and side effects of a regimen of prednisolone and mycophenolate mofetil given for 12 months with those of a regimen of prednisolone and cyclophosphamide given for 6 months, followed by prednisolone and azathioprine for 6 months. Complete remission was defined as a value for urinary protein excretion that was less than 0.3 g per 24 hours, with normal urinary sediment, a normal serum albumin concentration, and values for serum creatinine and creatinine clearance that were no more than 15 percent above the base-line values. Partial remission was defined as a value for urinary protein excretion that was between 0.3 and 2.9 g per 24 hours, with a serum albumin concentration of at least 30 g per liter.
Results: Eighty-one percent of the 21 patients treated with mycophenolate mofetil and prednisolone (group 1) had a complete remission, and 14 percent had a partial remission, as compared with 76 percent and 14 percent, respectively, of the 21 patients treated with cyclophosphamide and prednisolone followed by azathioprine and prednisolone (group 2). The improvements in the degree of proteinuria and the serum albumin and creatinine concentrations were similar in the two groups. One patient in each group discontinued treatment because of side effects. Infections were noted in 19 percent of the patients in group 1 and in 33 percent of those in group 2 (P = 0.29). Other adverse effects occurred only in group 2; they included amenorrhea (in 23 percent of the patients), hair loss (19 percent), leukopenia (10 percent), and death (10 percent). The rates of relapse were 15 percent and 11 percent, respectively.
Conclusions: For the treatment of diffuse proliferative lupus nephritis, the combination of mycophenolate mofetil and prednisolone is as effective as a regimen of cyclophosphamide and prednisolone followed by azathioprine and prednisolone but is less toxic.