Calcineurin inhibitor nephrotoxicity: longitudinal assessment by protocol histology

Transplantation. 2004 Aug 27;78(4):557-65. doi: 10.1097/


Background: The role and burden of cyclosporine (CsA) nephrotoxicity in long-term progressive kidney graft dysfunction is poorly documented.

Methods: The authors evaluated 888 prospective protocol kidney biopsy specimens from 99 patients taken regularly until 10 years after transplantation for evidence of CsA nephrotoxicity.

Results: The most sensitive histologic marker of CsA nephrotoxicity was arteriolar hyalinosis, predicted by CsA dose and functional CsA nephrotoxicity. Striped fibrosis was associated with early initiation of CsA and the need for posttransplant dialysis (both P < 0.05). The 10-year cumulative Kaplan-Meier prevalence of arteriolar hyalinosis, striped fibrosis, and tubular microcalcification was 100%, 88.0%, and 79.2% of kidneys, respectively. Beyond 1 year, 53.9% had two or more lesions of CsA nephrotoxicity. Structural CsA nephrotoxicity occurred in two phases, with different clinical and histologic characteristics. The acute phase occurred with a median onset 6 months after transplantation, was usually reversible, and was associated with functional CsA nephrotoxicity (P < 0.05), high CsA levels (P < 0.05), and mild arteriolar hyalinosis (P < 0.001). The chronic phase of CsA nephrotoxicity persisted over several biopsies, occurred at a median onset of 3 years, and was associated with lower CsA doses and trough levels (both P < 0.05). It was largely irreversible and accompanied by severe arteriolar hyalinosis and progressive glomerulosclerosis (both P < 0.001). A threshold CsA dose of 5 mg/kg/day predicted worsening of arteriolar hyalinosis on sequential histology.

Conclusions: Pathologic changes of CsA nephrotoxicity were virtually universal by 10 years and exacerbated chronic allograft nephropathy. CsA is unsuitable as a universal, long-term immunosuppressive agent for kidney transplantation. Strategies to ameliorate or avoid nephrotoxicity are thus urgently needed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arterioles / drug effects
  • Arterioles / pathology
  • Calcineurin Inhibitors*
  • Cyclosporine / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / adverse effects*
  • Kidney / drug effects*
  • Kidney Transplantation
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies


  • Calcineurin Inhibitors
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Cyclosporine