Pharmacokinetics of immunosuppressants: a perspective on ethnic differences

Int J Clin Pharmacol Ther. 2004 Dec;42(12):701-18. doi: 10.5414/cpp42701.


Despite recent advancements in solid organ transplantation, African-American renal allograft recipients continue to exhibit poorer prognosis in long-term clinical outcome and graft survival compared to Caucasian patients. The role of immunosuppressants in post-transplant outcome is crucial, and associations between exposure-related pharmacokinetic parameters and clinical outcome have been made for several drugs in this class. Thus, ethnic differences in the pharmacokinetics of immunosuppressants are potentially a key factor in the observed differences in post-transplant outcome between African-Americans and Caucasians. Ethnic differences in pharmacokinetics of mycophenolate mofetil and azathioprine based on the current literature are either absent or only of minor relevance. Cyclosporine, tacrolimus, sirolimus and everolimus, however, have all been described to exhibit ethnicity-specific differences in bioavailability and/or dose-adjusted systemic exposure, although currently available reports are controversial for some of these drugs. Oral bioavailability of these drugs in African-Americans was between 20 and 50% lower than in Caucasians or Non-African-Americans, leading to higher dose requirements in African-Americans to maintain similar average concentrations of the respective immunosuppressant. Since all four drugs undergo extensive metabolism and are substrates for CYP3A isoenzymes as well as the drug transporter P-glycoprotein, interethnic variability in activity of these enzymes/transporter may provide a common mechanism for the observed ethnic differences. These ethnic differences are most likely mediated via several non-genetic as well as genetic factors, including known genetic variations that impair transporter/enzyme activity in genes such as CYP3A4, CYP3A5 and ABCB1 (MDR1). Appreciation of differences in immunosuppressant pharmacokinetics and dose requirements between African-Americans and Caucasians in clinical practice is expected to improve post-transplant immunosuppressive pharmacotherapy and may thus contribute to equalize prognostic outcome for all transplant patients.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Azathioprine / pharmacokinetics
  • Blacks*
  • Cyclosporine / pharmacokinetics
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / genetics
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System / metabolism
  • Everolimus
  • Graft Survival
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / pharmacokinetics*
  • Mycophenolic Acid / analogs & derivatives*
  • Mycophenolic Acid / pharmacokinetics
  • Organ Transplantation / ethnology
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Sirolimus / analogs & derivatives*
  • Sirolimus / pharmacokinetics
  • Tacrolimus / pharmacokinetics
  • Whites*


  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Cyclosporine
  • Cytochrome P-450 Enzyme System
  • Everolimus
  • Mycophenolic Acid
  • Azathioprine
  • Sirolimus
  • Tacrolimus