Background: The prognosis of patients with systemic lupus erythematosus who have glomerulonephritis is poor, despite treatment with immunosuppressive therapy. Plasmapheresis therapy has been used, but there have been few controlled clinical observations of its efficacy.
Methods: We carried out a randomized, controlled trial comparing a standard-therapy regimen of prednisone and cyclophosphamide (standard therapy) with a regimen of standard therapy plus plasmapheresis in 86 patients with severe lupus nephritis in 14 medical centers. The patients underwent plasmapheresis three times weekly for four weeks. Drug therapy was standardized, with strict adherence to nine detailed medical-management protocols.
Results: Forty-six patients received standard therapy, and 40 patients received standard therapy plus plasmapheresis. The mean follow-up was 136 weeks. Six patients (13 percent) in the standard-therapy group and eight patients (20 percent) in the plasmapheresis group died. Renal failure developed in 8 patients (17 percent) in the standard-therapy group, as compared with 10 (25 percent) in the plasmapheresis group. Thirty patients (35 percent) reached stopping points--14 (30 percent) in the standard-therapy group and 16 (40 percent) in the plasmapheresis group. A similar number of patients in each group had a decrease in both the serum creatinine concentration and urinary protein excretion to approximately normal values. Patients treated with plasmapheresis had a significantly more rapid reduction of serum concentrations of antibodies against double-stranded DNA and cryoglobulins.
Conclusions: Treatment with plasmapheresis plus a standard regimen of prednisone and cyclophosphamide therapy does not improve the clinical outcome in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus and severe nephritis, as compared with the standard regimen alone.