Thalidomide for the treatment of chronic graft-versus-host disease

N Engl J Med. 1992 Apr 16;326(16):1055-8. doi: 10.1056/NEJM199204163261604.


Background: Allogeneic bone marrow transplantation is an accepted therapy for hematologic cancer, aplastic anemia, and inherited immunodeficiencies. Chronic graft-versus-host disease (GVHD) is the principal complication in patients surviving more than 100 days. Thalidomide has been shown experimentally to be effective in treating GVHD.

Methods: We treated 23 patients with chronic GVHD refractory to conventional treatment and 21 patients with "high-risk" chronic GVHD (identified as having at least two of the following three risk factors: chronic GVHD that has evolved from acute GVHD, lichenoid skin or mucous-membrane changes, and hepatic dysfunction. Such patients have a high mortality rate.) with thalidomide in a dose that produced a plasma level of 5 micrograms per milliliter two hours after administration. Therapy was continued for three months after a complete response or for six months after a partial response.

Results: The overall actuarial survival of all enrolled patients was 64 percent. Survival was 76 percent among the patients receiving salvage therapy for refractory GVHD and 48 percent among those with high-risk GVHD. A complete response was observed in 14 patients, a partial response in 12 patients, and no response in 18. Side effects were minor, most notably sedation in almost all patients.

Conclusions: In this preliminary trial, thalidomide appeared to be safe and effective for the treatment of chronic GVHD. A trial comparing thalidomide with prednisone in patients with newly diagnosed chronic GVHD will be required to demonstrate its relative efficacy.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Bone Marrow Transplantation / adverse effects
  • Child
  • Chronic Disease
  • Graft vs Host Disease / drug therapy*
  • Graft vs Host Disease / mortality
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / administration & dosage
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / adverse effects
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Infections / complications
  • Middle Aged
  • Thalidomide / administration & dosage
  • Thalidomide / adverse effects
  • Thalidomide / therapeutic use*


  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Thalidomide