High-dose azathioprine pulse therapy as a new treatment option in patients with active Wegener's granulomatosis and lupus nephritis refractory or intolerant to cyclophosphamide

Clin Rheumatol. 2005 Jun;24(3):251-7. doi: 10.1007/s10067-004-1002-8. Epub 2004 Nov 26.


The objective of this study was to evaluate the feasibility and safety of high-dose azathioprine pulse (HAP) therapy in the induction of remission in patients with active Wegener's granulomatosis (WG) or progressive lupus nephritis (LN) refractory to or intolerant of cyclophosphamide. Four patients with antineutrophil cytoplasmic antibody (ANCA)-associated WG and two patients with progressive LN were treated with HAP (1200-1800 mg) applied monthly as continuous intravenous infusions at 50 mg/h. Patients received a total of 50 courses of intravenous azathioprine (AZA) therapy. Disease activity was assessed using the Birmingham Vasculitis Activity Score (BVAS) and the Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Activity Index (SLEDAI). As only partial remission was induced in patients with progressive LN on this regimen, an additional 18 cycles were applied in these patients in which oral AZA at 100 mg/day in weeks 2 and 3 was added between two intravenous courses. A hereditary defect in thiopurine methyltransferase activity was excluded before initiation of treatment. High-dose azathioprine pulse and the intensified HAP treatment were well tolerated. Complete remission was achieved in two patients with WG suffering from three relapses of disease on application of 2-6 courses of HAP. Remission was maintained for 16-24 months. The remaining two patients with WG were withdrawn after 2-3 courses due to unchanged disease activity. In two patients with LN, partial remission was noted on 6-9 courses of HAP; however, the patients relapsed despite therapy with methotrexate and mycophenolate mofetil. The intensified HAP regimen led to partial or complete remission in both LN patients which was confirmed by sequential renal biopsies. Our results suggest that HAP therapy represents a well-tolerated regimen in patients with active WG and LN intolerant of or refractory to cyclophosphamide. As partial or complete remission was observed in four of six patients, further studies seem warranted to assess clinical efficacy in these patients.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Antibodies, Antineutrophil Cytoplasmic / blood
  • Azathioprine / administration & dosage*
  • Biopsy
  • Cyclophosphamide / adverse effects*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis / drug therapy*
  • Granulomatosis with Polyangiitis / pathology
  • Humans
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Immunosuppressive Agents / adverse effects
  • Injections, Intravenous
  • Lupus Nephritis / blood
  • Lupus Nephritis / drug therapy*
  • Lupus Nephritis / pathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pulse Therapy, Drug
  • Remission Induction
  • Safety
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antibodies, Antineutrophil Cytoplasmic
  • Immunosuppressive Agents
  • Cyclophosphamide
  • Azathioprine