Clinical pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of tacrolimus in solid organ transplantation

Clin Pharmacokinet. 2004;43(10):623-53. doi: 10.2165/00003088-200443100-00001.


The aim of this review is to analyse critically the recent literature on the clinical pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of tacrolimus in solid organ transplant recipients. Dosage and target concentration recommendations for tacrolimus vary from centre to centre, and large pharmacokinetic variability makes it difficult to predict what concentration will be achieved with a particular dose or dosage change. Therapeutic ranges have not been based on statistical approaches. The majority of pharmacokinetic studies have involved intense blood sampling in small homogeneous groups in the immediate post-transplant period. Most have used nonspecific immunoassays and provide little information on pharmacokinetic variability. Demographic investigations seeking correlations between pharmacokinetic parameters and patient factors have generally looked at one covariate at a time and have involved small patient numbers. Factors reported to influence the pharmacokinetics of tacrolimus include the patient group studied, hepatic dysfunction, hepatitis C status, time after transplantation, patient age, donor liver characteristics, recipient race, haematocrit and albumin concentrations, diurnal rhythm, food administration, corticosteroid dosage, diarrhoea and cytochrome P450 (CYP) isoenzyme and P-glycoprotein expression. Population analyses are adding to our understanding of the pharmacokinetics of tacrolimus, but such investigations are still in their infancy. A significant proportion of model variability remains unexplained. Population modelling and Bayesian forecasting may be improved if CYP isoenzymes and/or P-glycoprotein expression could be considered as covariates. Reports have been conflicting as to whether low tacrolimus trough concentrations are related to rejection. Several studies have demonstrated a correlation between high trough concentrations and toxicity, particularly nephrotoxicity. The best predictor of pharmacological effect may be drug concentrations in the transplanted organ itself. Researchers have started to question current reliance on trough measurement during therapeutic drug monitoring, with instances of toxicity and rejection occurring when trough concentrations are within 'acceptable' ranges. The correlation between blood concentration and drug exposure can be improved by use of non-trough timepoints. However, controversy exists as to whether this will provide any great benefit, given the added complexity in monitoring. Investigators are now attempting to quantify the pharmacological effects of tacrolimus on immune cells through assays that measure in vivo calcineurin inhibition and markers of immunosuppression such as cytokine concentration. To date, no studies have correlated pharmacodynamic marker assay results with immunosuppressive efficacy, as determined by allograft outcome, or investigated the relationship between calcineurin inhibition and drug adverse effects. Little is known about the magnitude of the pharmacodynamic variability of tacrolimus.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Drug Interactions
  • Drug Monitoring
  • Graft Rejection / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / adverse effects
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Organ Transplantation*
  • Tacrolimus / administration & dosage
  • Tacrolimus / pharmacokinetics*
  • Tacrolimus / therapeutic use*


  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Tacrolimus