Background: Corticosteroid therapy after renal transplantation is associated with many adverse effects. Newer immunosuppressive agents may allow for safe and effective reductions in dose or early steroid withdrawal.
Methods: In this prospective, single-center clinical trial, 60 patients were randomized into 2 groups: control patients (n = 28), who received low doses of prednisone throughout, and study patients (n = 32), who were withdrawn from steroids 7 days posttransplant. Patients received a limited course of rabbit antilymphocyte globulin (rALG) induction therapy, tacrolimus (TAC), and mycophenolate mofetil (MMF). Patients were followed for clinical outcomes and renal function. Protocol biopsies were performed at 1, 6, and 12 months.
Results: Clinical rejections occurred in 11% of controls and 13% of study patients. Renal function was well maintained and equivalent in both groups. In all, 111 protocol biopsies were performed without complications. Subclinical rejection was noted in only 2 protocol biopsies, and borderline changes were seen in 12 biopsies, all of which were distributed equally between both groups. Unsuspected acute TAC toxicity was seen in 8 biopsies. Protocol biopsies led to changes in therapy in 10% of patients. In both groups, serial protocol biopsies demonstrated increased allograft fibrosis over time, which was significant at 1 year in the steroid withdrawal group.
Conclusion: The immunosuppressive combination of rALG, TAC, and MMF prevents subclinical rejection and the need for high doses of steroids after transplantation. However, continual low-dose steroid therapy may aid in preventing chronic allograft fibrosis. Protocol biopsies help define the short-term and long-term risks of steroid withdrawal therapy.