Cardiac allograft vasculopathy after heart transplantation: risk factors and management

J Heart Lung Transplant. 2004 May;23(5 Suppl):S187-93. doi: 10.1016/j.healun.2004.03.009.


Cardiovascular disease post-transplant, particularly ischemic heart disease, is a significant problem for all transplant recipients. The major risk factors-smoking, obesity, diabetes, dyslipidemia and hypertension-are often more prevalent in heart transplant populations than in the general population. One of the main risk factors influencing graft loss and patient survival is cardiac allograft vasculopathy (CAV). Because CAV affects between 30% and 60% of cardiac transplant recipients within 5 years of surgery, prevention is a key focus for cardiac transplant teams today. CAV is caused by both immunologic mechanisms (e.g., acute rejection and anti-HLA antibodies) and non-immunologic mechanisms relating to the transplant itself or the recipient (e.g., donor age, hypertension, hyperlipidemia and pre-existing diabetes) or to the side effects often associated with immunosuppression with calcineurin inhibitors or corticosteroids (e.g., cytomegalovirus infection, nephrotoxicity and new-onset diabetes after transplantation). The calcineurin inhibitors, cyclosporine and tacrolimus, effectively prevent acute rejection, but do not prevent the development of CAV. CAV prevention will require a combined approach of new adjunct immunosuppressant agents (e.g., the proliferation signal inhibitors) and reduction in cardiovascular risk. Hypertension, hyperlipidemia and diabetes are also associated with the immunosuppression required to prevent organ rejection. Some studies have shown that hypertension is present more frequently in cyclosporine-treated patients than in tacrolimus-treated patients and that tacrolimus may be associated with a more favorable lipid profile. On the other hand, tacrolimus may be more diabetogenic than cyclosporine with current data suggesting a trend but no statistically significant supporting evidence. New-onset diabetes after transplantation is at times difficult to manage and may be an important determinant along with hypertension and hyperlipidemia of ischemic heart disease, cerebrovascular disease and peripheral vascular disease. The choice of calcineurin inhibitor for an immunosuppressive regimen in heart transplantation should consider the associated relative cardiovascular risks.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / therapy
  • Diabetes Mellitus / etiology
  • Heart Transplantation / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Hyperlipidemias / etiology
  • Hypertension / etiology
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use
  • Risk Factors
  • Survival Analysis
  • Transplantation, Homologous


  • Immunosuppressive Agents